Saturday, June 07, 2008

Miracle Comeback Falls a Half Step Short

For 3-1/2 innings Friday night the Wildcats played some of their worst ball of the season, negating a fine pitching performance by Andrew by repeatedly failing to make plays. The Big Stixx’s first two hitters set the tone with a deep triple and RBI single, but after a fly out, Andrew fielder a sharp comebacker, wheeled and led shortstop Will perfectly, and Will turned the inning-ending double play.

Things then worsened in the bottom of the inning, when the Wildcats failed to put the ball in play: two walks were mixed in with three strikeouts.

In the top of the second, the next six Stixx batters should’ve been retired, but only three actually were. The lumbering Stixx first-baseman beat out a slow roller to third, and the next grounder was just out of the diving third-baseman’s grasp. The next grounder was in the hole, but Will made a nice backhanded stop. He set himself to flip across his body to force the runner…but the second-baseman failed to cover the bag. Will quickly reloaded and fired a throw to first, but the speedy runner easily beat it out. Will was able to force the next runner at second, but the second-baseman turned and threw to first - with no chance to get the batter. When the throw sailed to the fence, the runner scored from third. The next batter popped it up high, behind first-base…just out of reach of three fielders. Mercifully, Andrew struck out the next batter.

After the Wildcats went down in order, things got worse defensively. Three straight walks loaded the bases with no outs, but Andrew alertly turned another comebacker into a 1-2-3 double play. A looping line drive was almost caught for the third out, in right-field by a diving Jeremy, but instead it fell for a two-run double. The next batter’s sharp grounder landed quickly in the third-baseman’s glove, but instead of going to first, he threw to second. Since the easy play was at first, the second-baseman failed to cover the bag in time. Then a drive into left-center was cut off and thrown back to Will, who turned to see he had no play at third. He then saw the batter was halfway to second, an easy out…but no one was covering the base.

Jared came on to relieve Andrew and walked the first batter, then a single to center plated the 5th and 6th runs of the inning. Finally a grounder to second was turned into a close force out by Will. Jared had pitched two scoreless innings against a tough East Cobb Baseball team the night before, but the Stixx had his number tonight.

The lapses continued in the fourth. Another high pop fell in right field between the 2B, RF, CF, & SS, and with no one covering second, the batter cruised in with a double. the next grounder was up the middle, on the right-field side of the bag, but Will made a fine play and threw out the batter at first. Anthony knocked down a hard smash down the third-base line, but had no play at first. The runner on first took off on a steal of second, and the batter hit one through the vacated hole at short. The frustration grew as the next hitter popped it straight up, but neither the pitcher nor catcher failed to catch the ball in the air. The ball bounced and was headed foul, but the catcher touched it in fair territory. On a single to center the runner from second was held at third…until no one was able to stop the throw home. The fifth single of the inning extended the lead to 12 – 1, and I was ready to stop taking notes and head to the car.

With time running out and distant lightning flashes closing in, the Wildcats had one more long-shot chance. The first pitch of the inning hit Andrew in the foot. Will lined a single to center, then advanced to second as Andrew scored on a passed ball. As the pitcher looked in for the catcher’s signal Will dashed to third, and scored when the throw sailed high. Ritchie, Bryce, Trey, and Anthony walked, then Vince’s two-out double cleared the bases. Jeremy, Nick, and Andrew all walked, and Will strode to the plate representing the game-tying run. His line drive single to left pulled the Wildcats within two runs. Will was able to take second on the play.

Ritchie came back up, and quickly went down 0 – 2 in the count. His grandfather fretted that he would again take strike three, as he had in the first inning. Finally Ritchie sent a grounder to the shortstop’s left, and he put his head down and raced to first. Andrew crossed the plate from third as the shortstop bobbled the ball, hesitated, picked it up, and threw to first. Will rounded third and was halfway home as the first-baseman stretched to catch the ball. It was a bang-bang call, and I noticed the base umpire was positioned on the infield grass, way over near third. If safe, Will scores easily to tie the game, erasing an eleven run deficit. But the umpire called Ritchie out…end of game.

Still, the nine run rally lifted the spirits of the Wildcats players, coaches, and fans.

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