Late-Inning Misplay Costs Pirates In Loss
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 24, 2014, 23:41
Darius Gillus set down the first nine batters he faced before tiring in the 4th inning.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Stuck in a dead-locked game in the 9th inning, the Post 284 Pirates' players all knew one play could determine the outcome of the game. After all, it was their late-inning heroics a few nights earlier which resulted in their second-win of the season against Post 137.
However, the Pirates would experience little magic against the Post 284 Bucs. In his fifth inning of relief, Collin Fleischer surrendered a lead-off single in the 9th to set-up what may have been the play which changed the game's outcome. The Bucs' Daniel McKenney then attempted to steal second base, but Austin Gammon's throw was on target.
Gammon's missile to second had beaten McKenney to the bag for what would have been a sure out, but it was mishandled by Clayton Dalkiewicz. It would be the only break the Bucs needed as Grant Boyd worked a walk and was immediately sacrificed over by Seth Markins. Then, left-fielder Brandon Stout lifted a long fly-ball to left to bring in the go-ahead run.
But the damage was not yet done. The Bucs' Rashard Stewart would step into the box and drive in one more run with a double, but was thrown out at third trying to stretch the hit into a triple. It didn't end up costing the Bucs as Stewart took the hill, pitched around a lead-off error and closed the door on a 5-3 win, handing the Pirates their first loss of the season.
For the Pirates (2-1), the loss was a disappointing result after receiving a great pitching performance from Darius Gillus and Fleischer while battling back from two-run deficit after four innings of play.
"We're getting into a trend of not scoring runs until late in the game," Pirates manager Gilbert Baber said after the game. "That's what I just told them. We aren't going to win games in the 9th inning every week. You are facing good teams with good pitching. It's not going to happen."
The Pirates received a taste of that bleak reality against the Bucs (2-1). After showing an ability to pound opposing pitching in their season-opening victory, the Pirates batters looked lost and confused against Bucs' pitcher Grant Boyd.
Boyd, the Matoaca High School product, overpowered the Pirates early in the game while pounding the zone to record some economical innings. While the Pirates would crack the scoreboard for one run in three consecutive innings, Boyd and his mid 80s fastball rediscovered a groove after the 5th inning to go seven-strong.
Grant Boyd befuddled the Pirates lineup during a dominating seven-inning effort.
However, part of the reason Boyd was able to pitch deep into the game was the Pirates penchant for swinging early in the count. While aggressiveness at the plate can lead to good results, it can also make a team's offensive philosophy more predictable and thusly handing the advantage back to the pitcher.
It's an aspect Baber is not quite sure what to do about so early in the season. It's a fine line to ask some of his better hitters to be more patient and run the risk of having them stare at a pitch they could have belted.
"Grant's a good pitcher and you can't deny that," Baber said of the opposing pitcher. "But we had little dribblers in our first couple of at-bats and both were first pitches. You have to work the count a little bit to get what you want. I'm not going to be upset because they are my trigger guys, but it works both ways."
Although Baber was visibly upset with the effort, there were some positives for the Pirates in the loss.
It started with Gillus who came out of the gates firing in his first start of the season. The L.C. Bird product struck out four of the first six batters he faces while showcasing an overpowering fastball. In fact, Gillus set-down nine-consecutive Bucs' hitters before they got to him in the 4th inning.
With the rising senior tiring on the hill, the Bucs' Grayson Trower belted a two-run home run on a 2-2 delivery over the left field fence. It was just the start of a three-run, four-hit inning which saw Gillus rebound to strand the bases loaded. Then, Fleischer took the mound following Gillus and showed off his own assortment of pitches.
While the VMI commit did not look to have his best stuff — he was struggling with control and did not have much velocity — he found a way to keep the Bucs in check. Utilizing a slow curveball to get ahead of hitters and a tight-breaking one to put them away, Fleischer tossed four scoreless innings before the fateful 9th inning.
Austin Gammon's value behind the plate shined brightly during the Pirates' loss.
Additionally, the Pirates once again witnessed the value of having Gammon behind the dish. The Virginia Wesleyan product shows an agileness behind the plate to halt possible wild-pitches and has a cannon of an arm. Gammon gunned down Trowers to end the 7th inning and should have had another caught-stealing in the 9th.
However, for the team to have success this season, they need to end their early-inning malaise and be prepared to play from the first pitch.
"We are a half an inning from being 1-2 instead of 2-1. We could very easily be at the bottom of the barrel instead of toward the top," Baber said. "We just can't wait that long to produce."
With three more games to be played in the coming week, the Pirates will need to figure out how to get off to better starts quickly or else more results like Tuesday night could follow.