Going into the weekend, we had to feel pretty good about our chances in our tournament matchup against 78 Lieber: We’d beaten them four out of five times in the regular season, we were coming off probably our best game of the year in our win over Shiffman, and Dylan was going to be rested and ready to keep up his pitching dominance.
And then I got an email yesterday from Dylan’s mom: He’d been hit by a pitch on the left elbow in his Huskies game, and definitely wouldn’t be able to bat, and probably not to pitch either.
This wasn’t exactly an existential crisis — we have plenty of other pitchers who’ve had good success this season, especially vs. Lieber — but it still let a little doubt sneak in about how easy the game would be for our side. So it was a relief when, after throwing some warmup pitches before the game, Dylan declared himself okay to start the game on the mound — though he still didn’t think he could bat, so I held Roan back on the bench in case I needed to bat for him.
Dylan wasted no time setting down the top of the Lieber order in the 1st, sitting down Julian and Oliver on swinging strikeouts and getting Augie to hit a soft flyout to Nathan in right, for a 1-2-3 eight-pitch inning. That brought the top of our lineup to the plate, and it delivered: Jeremy led off with one of his patented line shots to left, ending up at second with a double, then Ben M followed with a shot of his own to the left-center gap to put the Green Blueberries on the board. Nathan flied out to left, then Luke singled and Marco walked to load the bases with one out. As Jordan G stepped up to the plate, I yelled “Get hit in the butt!” since he got plunked twice in just 19 plate appearances this year, but he ignored me, getting hit in the foot instead to drive in a second run.
Yates was next up, and he turned on a pitch from Lieber starter Teo and rocketed it to right-center for a two-run double. Jordan N followed with a looping flyout to left that Jordan G tagged and raced for the plate on, nearly crashing into catcher Max English — who in trying to catch the throw ended up in the baseline — and tumbling onto the plate to score our 5th run. Dylan then stepped to the plate — he’d decided he could bat and try to walk, even if didn’t swing — and after taking a strike he decided to swing after all, fouling off several pitches before grounding out to the pitcher.
Staked to a 5-0 lead, Dylan threw another easy inning in the 2nd, walking the leadoff hitter but then getting two groundouts and a soft liner to Ben M at 2nd to end any possible threat. We got another run in the bottom of the 2nd on Ben M’s second double of the game, this one over the center fielder’s head, an infield single by Nathan, and an RBI groundout by Luke. Lieber threatened in the top of the third when a single to center, a walk, and a grounder that snuck past Marco at first (the runner arguably interfered with him, but he didn’t really have anywhere else to go) loaded the bases with one out, but Dylan froze Oliver looking at a third strike and Augie lined out to Jeremy at short to end the threat.
Our side went down 1-2-3 on groundouts in the bottom of the 3rd, and Dylan threw another scoreless frame in the top of the 4th, walking two but striking out two and getting the final out when Jeremy flipped to Luke at third at the last second to force the runner there. In the bottom of the 4th, Lieber reliever Jason walked Jeremy to open the inning. Ben M followed with another mighty clout to center, but the center fielder ran it down for the out, then threw to first to attempt to double off Jeremy — but the throw got away, and Jeremy headed for second, and then the first baseman’s throw to second got away, and Jeremy headed to third, and then the center fielder’s throw to third went into our dugout, and Jeremy was awarded home.
With only 65 pitches under his belt, Dylan headed back out to pitch the 5th, and worked a near-perfect inning: strikeout, walk, strikeout, caught stealing on a perfect peg from Jordan G, with Jeremy applying the tag. In the bottom of the inning, the Green Blueberries loaded the bases on walks, then Nathan delivered a two-out, two-run single to left, and though Ben M ended up caught in a rundown for the third out, we were now sitting on a comfortable 9-0 lead, with either one or two innings to go, depending on when we hit the time limit.
It was so comfortable a lead, in fact, that I felt okay leaving Roan (who’d batted for Dylan in the 5th) in to play first base for the top of the 6th, while bringing in Luke to pitch. This was not a popular move with Dylan, who badly wanted to finish the shutout, but I pointed out to him that he was at 79 pitches and this could keep him fresh for Thursday’s game while allowing our other pitchers to get some more work in — and besides, the PPBA Freshman Division rules would allow him to reenter the game to pitch if our bullpen ran into trouble.
Our bullpen ran into trouble, and lots of it. Luke was throwing strikes, but Lieber’s batters hit the crap out of them, clubbing a long flyout to Nathan in center and then smacking a double and two singles, all no-doubters to the outfield. After just 11 pitches later, Luke departed in favor of Yates, who gave up another double, cutting our lead to 9-3. Jason, the batter who’d doubled, then took off for third — a slightly odd move considering the run margin at the time — and was first called safe by the base ump, a call that was met with disbelief from our team, and which was immediately changed to “But he’s out anyway, because he slid head first!”
With two outs and none on, Yates needed just one more out to close out the win. He couldn’t get it, walking the next two batters, and leading me to head to the mound while telling Roan to head for the dugout, so Dylan could reenter the game in the 9 hole to pitch.
As Dylan was taking his warmups, I spotted Erik Lieber conferring with the umps. I headed out to join the discussion, which from the time I arrived went something like this:
ERIK: You can’t bring a pitcher back in the game once you’ve taken him out.
ME: Of course I can. It’s even happened in the majors with Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco when—
ERIK: But then it was a player who was already in the game. You can’t bring him in from the dugout.
ME: Sure I can. The rules explicitly say I can bring in a starting player to reenter the game in his same spot in the order. [I pull out the rulebook and turn to the relevant rule]
UMP (to ERIK): Look, we’re running out of time here to start another inning. Why don’t you just protest the game and we’ll keep playing and figure it out later?
ME (to ERIK): So if you’re arguing he has to be in the field first, for how long? One pitch?
UMP: Yeah, that’d work.
ME: Okay. Dylan, go play third while Yates throws one pitch.
And Yates threw one pitch, a ball, then Dylan threw three straight strikes and the ballgame was over. 78 deMause 9, 78 Lieber 3