Tournament game 2: Green Blueberries 9, 78 Shiffman 5

After our loss last weekend to SFX Mezzo-Lui, we faced a daunting task to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament: Beat 78 Shiffman, who we had never beaten in I don’t know how many tries across seven or eight seasons. And unlike 78 Steckel, who beat Shiffman on Sunday to drop them into the elimination bracket, we’d have to face a team mostly at full strength, with their stars Sergei and Benji back playing after missing Sunday (though Sergei would be kept off the mound by a hand injury).

As the lower seed, we were the visiting team, and batted first, quickly loading the bases off of pitcher Eli Shiffman with walks by Ben M and Isaac and a pitch that hit Jordan G square in the back. Eli struck out the next two batters, though, bringing Shiffman’s Raiders (they are the Raiders every year) to the plate.

Green Blueberries starter Dylan whiffed Eli for the first out, but then faced Sergei, a former classmate of both of our Jordans at Brooklyn New School and a travel team player. He turned on a two-strike pitch from Dylan and launched it over Jordan N’s head in center, ending up on third with a triple. A walk followed to Benji, who took second without a throw as Dylan chose to hold the runner on third; a single to left then brought both runners home, as Dylan cut off the throw from left fielder Zach to catch the batter Justin in a rundown — one that went badly when Jordan G dropped Isaac’s throw, allowing Justin to end up safe at second. Dylan struck out Yates’s classmate Graeme, though, and then Dylan picked Justin off second, Ben M applying the tag for the third out.

In the top of the third, Jordan N led off by looping a ball over the drawn-in left side of the infield, with third baseman Benji (Jordan N’s teammate on the LaGuardia team) unable to race back to corral it. Jordan N then stole second, and went to third on a one-out bloop single to center by Dylan, only having to hold at third because he had to wait to see if the ball would be caught. Ben M then smacked a hard grounder to short, which seemed certain to lead to our first run — but the Shiffman infield was again playing in, and Jordan N was cut down at the plate on a close play. (Several observers felt the Shiffman catcher had blocked the plate without the ball, but the home plate ump was not one of them.) But it didn’t matter, as Luke then crushed a no-doubt double to left center, driving home Ganden (who had entered as a pinch-runner, his splinted finger be damned) and Ben M to tie the score at two apiece.

Even after being pinch-run for, Dylan was back on the mound for the bottom of the second — under Freshman rules, any starting player can be removed once and then returned to the same spot in the lineup — and started off by inducing a grounder to short, but Ben M wasn’t able to come up with the ball, and the batter was safe. When a walk and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with none out, it seemed like the fielding woes of our previous game against Shiffman would come back to haunt us.

Dylan froze the next Shiffman hitter for strike three, but #10 hitter Jonah White dropped a single in front of Zach that scored one run, and a grounder to short that Ben M stabbed at but couldn’t come up with scored another. Dylan sent Sergei down swinging for the second out, and catcher Jordan G then threw a pickoff attempt to first that Luke immediately threw home to catch the runner trying to score, and that was three outs — but we were now trailing 4-2.

In the top of the 3rd, we loaded the bases with two outs on a single by Emmett that went 20 feet and died in the grass (Shiffman argued that the ball had hit off Emmett’s foot; it hadn’t) and a pair of walks to pinch-hitters Nathan and Jeremy, who had just arrived from receiving city championship plaques with their ICE High School team. But Eli caught Dylan looking (on a dubious call) for the third out, as we left the bases loaded for the second time in the game. In the bottom of the 3rd, Benji led off with a single that snuck through the left side of the infield, then one out later, Graeme crushed a long fly to right that Nathan ran down, then fired in to Jordan G, who made the sweep tag … and the call was safe. (Again, several observers, including myself, begged to differ.) The next batter popped up to Ben M, but our deficit was now 5-2, and we were running out of time for a comeback.

One inning later, the score was unchanged, as the Green Blueberries had failed to score despite a one-out single by Luke and walk to Isaac, and Shiffman’s squad went down 1-2-3 thanks to a perfectly executed pickoff by catcher Jordan G and rundown of leadoff hitter Ben M (their Ben M, not ours), a line drive that Luke grabbed in foul territory, and a grounder to the mound that Dylan calmly tossed to first for the third out. With the 1:50 time limit for starting another inning now just 24 minutes away, we knew we might only have one more chance to stage a rally.

Emmett led off the top of the 5th, and smacked a hard grounder to the left of the Shiffman second baseman for a leadoff single. Nathan then drew a walk, and Shiffman came out to remove Eli, replacing him with Benji. The move backfired, as Benji couldn’t throw his slower-than-slow curveball for strikes, walking both Jeremy and Dylan to force in a run. Ben M (our Ben M this time) followed with a hard grounder that ate up the Shiffman shortstop, skipping past him as Nathan and Jeremy raced home, tying the score. Luke then hit a lazy fly ball to center — which the Shiffman center fielder completely failed to get a glove on, loading the bases with none out.

Isaac stepped to the plate, and with the infield playing in, made Shiffman pay by smacking a hard grounder between third and short that made it through to the outfield, as Dylan scored the go-ahead run. Jordan G worked a walk to force home an insurance run, then two strikeouts later, Nathan smacked an opposite-field single to left that scored both Luke and Isaac. That was all the scoring, but it was enough for a seven-run inning and a 9-5 lead, and we now only had to hold Shiffman to three or less runs in their last licks to secure a dramatic comeback win.

The tireless Dylan was on the mound again for the bottom of the 5th, and got Jonah White to ground to Isaac at second for one quick out. Eli followed with a clean single to center, though, and Sergei worked a walk, bringing up #3 hitter Benji — who hit a long fly to left, where Yates was waiting to calmly glove it for the second out. Justin stepped to the plate as Shiffman’s final hope, and hit a grounder to Isaac, who bobbled it momentarily, threw quickly to Luke at first — and the base ump signaled “out” as our fielders and dugout erupted in pandemonium. 78 deMause 9, 78 Shiffman 5

There was more after the game — a few Shiffman players were unhappy with our team’s jeers against their players (there were a couple of instances, but they were quickly shut down, and we had heard much the same coming from their bench), or maybe just with losing, and chose to bicker with us rather than shaking hands and accepting their loss with sportsmanship. They were the minority on Shiffman’s team, though, and in any case nothing could take away from the double joy of beating a team for the first time after so many tries, and also moving on to the next round of the tournament after we had our backs to the wall.

Our backs will still be to the wall in our next game on Sunday at 12:30 pm at Prospect Park Field 3, but at least our record against our next opponents is much better: 78 Lieber beat SFX Mezzo-Lui in a 2-1 nailbiter, so we will take on Lieber, who we went 4-1 against in the regular season, in our next elimination game. See you then, and let’s hope our team can continue their stellar play to make it a happy Father’s Day!