(June 25, 2018 – Plano, TX) The first place Dallas Spirits (18+) team entered game number 18 with a half game lead over the second place Dallas Orioles and Oak Cliff Pelicans. With the season winding down to just a couple of games, all three teams have clinched one of the final four positions as they prep for postseason baseball. With 3 games left to play in the regular season, overall seeding and pride are driving the teams forward. In this particular match-up, the Spirits looked to avenge an earlier walk-off defeat at the hands of the talented Orioles team.
Taking his place as starting pitcher once again for the Spirits, team ace Duane Aponte looked to take his record to a league best 8-1, with the one loss coming at the hands of the Orioles. As for the Orioles, it would be time for their ace, Craig Jaquez in his first start against the Spirits. In his previous appearance versus the Spirits, Jaquez pitched 2 shutdown innings in relief to pick up the win. The early going for Aponte and the Spirits started well, as the Orioles did little in the way of offense against a solid Spirits defensive unit. The early game play was highlighted by a glove hand flip to first by Spirits second baseman, Mike Werner on a chopper hit by a very fast, Cody Gladney. The Spirits defense appeared up for the task as Aponte and company allowed only one base runner in the first two innings of play.
The Spirits offense was also slowed by Jaquez, needing to get deep in their order before they would put the first run on the board. The bottom of the second inning began with Thomas Stoltz grounding out to second before Nate Martinez reached by utilizing his speed on an infield single. After a Carl Suverkrop strikeout, Steven Baker drew a walk to put runners on the corners with two away. Martinez made his way to third following a pair of Jaquez wild pitches, and looking to help his own cause, Aponte followed by taking a 1-0 fastball to the opposite field gap for an RBI double. After two innings of play the Spirits led, 1 to 0.
Aponte retired Anthony Cass to start the third and Jake Bellington followed Cass with a one out single. Aponte was able to get Jaquez to strike out on a ball in the dirt and with two away and the top of the order coming to bat, the Spirits looked to complete the shutdown inning and hold to their slim 1 to 0 lead. With Bellington on second base after advancing on the wild pitch strikeout of Jaquez, Orioles lead off man, Carlos Colon hit fly ball to left field. Spirits left fielder, Justin Anderson had some difficulty with the afternoon setting sun and was unable to measure the ball for the final out. The ball hit off of his glove and found its way to the turf and Bellington was able to score easily. Aponte was able to get Cody Gladney to ground back to him and Aponte completed the throw to first to end the rally with the scored tied, 1 to 1.
With the score evened up, the Spirits began their second journey through the lineup looking to regain the lead and the offense ignited with a one out double by former big leaguer, DJ Carrasco, who knocked one into the right-center field gap. Carrasco advanced to third on an error by the Orioles catcher and with two outs, Werner came to the plate looking to break the inning open. Werner lined an 0-1 pitch into left field for an RBI single and third baseman, John Showalter worked a 7-pitch walk to put two on with two out. In what would be the first of his 3 hits on the evening, Stoltz followed Showalter with a RBI single to right-center. Jaquez was able to get Martinez on swings to kill yet another rally, however the damage in the third put the Spirits up, 3 to 1.
The top of the fourth would turn out to be an eventful one for the Orioles as they would manage to once again come back and tie the ball game by putting 2 runs on the board to tie the game, 3 to 3. The Spirits set the birds in order, 1-2-3 in the fifth on not one, but two spectacular plays by shortstop, Kyle Redinger. The former Astros product used a sliding play to corral a ball hit up the middle and followed with a bullet throw from a knee to nip Colon at first for the put out.
The score remained tied, 3 to 3 until the bottom of the fifth when Anderson reached base with a free pass. Redinger was then able to reach base on a throwing error by the Orioles shortstop, and after a Carrasco pop-out, catcher Mitch Abeita was able to advance both Anderson and Redinger with a slowly-hit ground out to second base. With speed on the base paths, the Spirits looked to take back their lead any way possible. With Werner at the plate, the Spirits found that chance as Anderson was able to score the go ahead run on a passed ball by the Orioles catcher.
“We had great speed on the bases and when we got a break on that passed ball, we jumped all over it,” commented Showalter on the play. “Credit should go to Mike for following the game plan and staying patient during that plate appearance. He may not get the RBI in that situation, but having a keen eye allowed that opportunity to develop and for the run to score. Huge play!”
Werner would go on to ground out to end the inning but the damage would be done as the Spirits once again jumped ahead with a 4 to 3 lead after five innings complete. The top of the next inning would be met with some indecision as to whether the length of the game would be 7 or 9 innings. Showalter had called upon Carrasco to get up and prep for relief pitching for the inning as the game plan was to have him to close out the last two for the Spirits. After Carrasco took the mound to pitch in the top of the sixth, Showalter and company found that the game would in fact go 9 innings. After a quick meeting on the mound, Carrasco said he would remain in the game and do his best to pitch the final 4 innings, and as it would turn out, it was the end of the Orioles scoring on the night. Carrasco was able to set down the Orioles 1-2-3 with the assistance on a great play from Showalter at third. With one out, Justin Soto hit a slow roller in the direction of third that Showalter charged, handled, and then double-pumped to allow Werner to cover the bag at first, before making a strike that resulted in a bang-bang call of out by the field umpire.
“John made the highlight reel on that one,” noted club manger, Shawn Lee following the game. “I was there to support the club and to snap a variety of pictures and video for our website, but I don’t think I captured that one. It’s too bad, too. Between Show (Showalter), Redinger, and Suverkrop, we had a number of highlights today defensively that would have really been fun to have on video.”
The bottom of the sixth inning would provide the final run of the night for either team as Suverkrop was able to place a double to right-center to score Stoltz and add to the Spirits lead and eventual game final, 5 to 3. Carassco went on to over match Orioles hitters in the final 3 innings of play, striking out 8 and allowing only 1 hit and two walks.
“I was once again impressed with the resilience of the guys tonight,” continued Showalter following the game. “We were missing some big bats from our lineup, but you would never have known it by looking at the box score. This is such a deeply talented team and we look forward to the challenges ahead.”
With the victory, the Spirits remain in first place by a half game over the Oak Cliff Pelicans, who kept pace with a 12-0 victory over the Texas Renegades. As teams in the NTABL Open American League battle to get make-up game schedule due to rain-outs, the Spirits will remain idol, with a tentative scheduling of the Tube Sox on July 9. Details on this game remain TBD.