This was the game we’d played all year to be in: The championship game against 78 Steckel. Both teams came in riding three-game postseason winning streaks; the difference was that our last game was yesterday and Steckel’s was last weekend, which gave us the advantage of momentum, and Steckel’s squad the advantage of a rested pitching staff. They also, of course, had the advantage of zero postseason losses while our early loss to SFX Mezzo-Lui had forced us to arrive via the elimination bracket, which meant we would have to take two games in a row today to snatch the championship from Steckel’s grasp.
Two innings in, neither team had been able to gain an edge, or plate a run. Steckel starter Solly had allowed only a two-out single through the left side by Luke in the 1st, striking out four and otherwise not allowing a ball to leave the infield. Nathan, meanwhile, had matched Solly’s mound dominance for the Green Blueberries, allowing hit batsman with two outs in each of the first two innings but striking out three and allowing no hits. (He did yield a long drive by leadoff batter Justin in the bottom of the 1st, but Jeremy backpedaled to make a leaping grab for the out.)
Our first two batters went out quietly on two more groundouts in the top of the 3rd, then Jeremy worked a walk. He stole second, and took a huge lead and was seemingly caught by a pickoff throw from the mound — but head ump Joe Maldonado ruled that Solly had committed his second balk of the game, and Jeremy was placed at third. When the next pitch got away from Steckel’s catcher, Jeremy sped home and slid in just under the tag, and we had manufactured a 1-0 lead from thin air.
The lead held in the bottom of the 3rd, as Nathan again yielded just a single hit batter to reach base, aided by an inning-ending fly to left field that Yates gloved, bobbled, then caught in his bare hand for the out. We went down 1-2-3 in the 4th — two more strikeouts for Solly — and Nathan was back to the mound for the bottom of the 4th.
Steckel #3 hitter Jonathan met Nathan with the home side’s first hit of the game, a line single to right-center that dropped in between Jeremy and Roan. The dangerous Donald worked a walk, then Sam B delivered another hard single, this one to left-center, to tie the score. Another single to right followed, this one by Solly, then after a strikeout for the first out, a wild pickoff throw to third plated another run, and Michael singled through the left side for one more. Nathan battled back with a strikeout, a walk, and a pickoff of the runner on first to end the frame, but now the Green Blueberries were looking at a 4-1 deficit.
We got one back quickly in the top of the 5th, as a pair of throwing errors by Steckel’s third baseman allowed Yates to reach and then to score, with Roan taking his place at second base. Jordan N pinch-ran, and tried and failed to force a balk before taking off for third, where he was pegged out on a perfect throw from the Steckel catcher. Jeremy reached on a dropped third strike and stole second and third, but he was stranded there when Nathan flied out to left — our first ball hit in the air out of the infield all game.
With Nathan at 72 pitches and clearly out of gas, Isaac took the mound in the bottom of the 5th, and was met by a line shot to left off the bat of Justin that went for a double. One out later, Jonathan drove Justin in with a dying quail to right that dropped for a single. Isaac recovered to strike out Donald and Sam B — the latter on a classic Isaac eephus pitch that dropped in for a strike — but we were now down 5-2.
Once again, though, the Green Blueberries battled back, with Luke reaching base on a misplayed grounder to third and, one out later, Emmett working a walk to put two men on. The tiring Solly departed at this point for southpaw hurler Justin, who walked Jordan G to load the bases and put the tying run on base. Yates then stepped to the plate, and smacked a grounder through the left side, scoring Luke. Roan, returning to the game after being run for the previous inning, followed with a flyball out to center that was deep enough to allow Emmett to tag and score, and we were back within a run.
With two outs, Jordan G as the runner at second would now need to be replaced since he needed to don the catcher’s gear to prepare for the next inning, and Roan — the last player to make out — went out to run for him. My bench immediately reminded me, though, that this was the tying run and that we could instead run for Jordan G with Ganden, so in Ganden went. The move went for naught, though, as Justin fanned Dylan for the final out of the inning, leaving us one run down with one more time at bat left to go.
Everything was set up for a nailbiting finish, but it was not to be. Isaac got two quick outs, a popup to the right side that second baseman Dylan backpedaled on nicely to make the grab, and a strikeout looking. Another single that snuck through the infield, this time by pinch-hitter Max Sorkin, followed, and then Isaac’s command began to falter, as he walked the next three batters, the last two on 3-2 counts, to push across an insurance run for Steckel. Luke entered to face the dangerous heart of the Steckel order, and threw strikes, but they were hit hard: a single to left by Oscar and a hard grounder to third by Jonathan, with Emmett’s throw going wild as two more runs scored. Luke fanned Donald to end the inning, but our deficit now stood at a much steeper 9-4.
The end was anticlimax: strikeout, groundout, strikeout. After a postseason tournament that no one could have seen coming, 78 Steckel were the Freshman champs, and we would have to settle for the memories of some dramatic victories en route to being runners-up. 78 Steckel 9, 78 deMause 4
It was a tough loss, but our side was clearly running on fumes — our pitchers for a potential second game would have been “whoever’s left standing” — and we ran into a buzzsaw in the Steckel pitchers, who allowed only two lazy flyballs to the outfield while striking out 12, and the Steckel hitters, who delivered a ton of hard-hit balls in the late innings, all finding gaps between our fielders. (Our pitchers struck out 10 in six innings, but the BABIP gods were against us in this one.) If the second-place medals (Ben M, Ben R, Marco, and Zach, contact me about how to get yours) were a disappointing consolation prize, they should nonetheless serve as a reminder of the incredible way this team bounced back from what at one point felt like a lost season to knock powerhouses 78 Shiffman (who we’d never previously beaten) and HN Meehan (who had never previously lost a postseason tournament) out of the playoffs, and make it to a final matchup with 78 Steckel, who earned their championship today with an impressive performance.
It was also that championship team’s final bow, as Joel Steckel told his team today that he won’t be returning to coach next season. This means we may collect some reinforcements from the league champions for next season, when we’ll have a year of Freshman ball under our belt and get to play games against the younger crop of teams coming up from Grasshoppers — I, for one, can’t wait to get started.
Huge thanks to the entire team and parents for a sometimes exciting, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately hugely rewarding year. Big thanks especially to graduating seniors Jeremy, Nathan, Zach, and Marco (and best of luck to the first three at Syracuse University and to Marco wherever he’s headed in the fall); to Jordan G, who likely played his last game behind the plate for our team as he heads off to the Stuyvesant varsity squad next year; and to Emmett, whose eligibility as our supersub expired this year, as his own team will be Freshmen as well the next two seasons. You will all be sorely missed, not just for your play on the field but for your comradeship and good humor, and we hope you’ll consider dropping by from time to time to see how we fare when baseball season starts anew next spring.
Have a terrific summer and offseason, everyone! See you around the park.