(May 21, 2017 – Carrollton, TX) Sunday’s match up between the Dallas Spirits and the Dallas Orioles turned out to be a tight one, complete with end-of-game dramatics. The Spirits jumped out to a quick 1 to 0 lead in the top of the first inning after Mike Werner singled with two out. Collin Stacha followed with another two-out single and third baseman, John Showalter started the scoring by singling to right to score Werner. The Orioles struck back quickly however, and took the lead after scoring 2 runs of their own in the bottom of the inning.
In the top half of the second, the Spirits answered after designated hitter, Thomas Stoltz doubled to start the inning. Duane Aponte grounded out to push Stoltz to third base, and he was able to score on another ground out by Carl Suverkrop. Solid pitching and impermeable defense by both teams ruled the following innings and the old fashioned pitcher’s duel was in effect as the score remained tied at 2 to 2 for the next 7 innings. Pitchers from both squads made short work in dispatching their opposition as the Spirits were able to get only one runner past second base against Orioles pitcher, Cody Gladney.
It wasn’t any easier on the Orioles side of the ball as Aponte was once again throwing in masterful form. The biggest mid-inning threat mounted from the Orioles came during the bottom of the sixth inning when first baseman, Alex Faught led off the inning by sending a hard liner to right field. Right fielder, Adam Brown misjudged the line drive and the ball sailed over his head. Brown then struggled with picking up the ball, allowing Faught to stretch his double to third base. The Orioles were poised to take the lead with a runner on third and nobody out, when Aponte then faced Preston Cole in what would turn out to be a six-pitch battle with Cole going down swinging. Aponte was able to get the next Orioles hitter to pop out to third and with two down and pressure mounting, Orioles lead off hitter, Carlos Colon came to bat eager to drive the run home. Aponte remained poised however, and was able to get Colon to ground out to shortstop, Nate Martinez and the Spirits dodged the Orioles rally.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Orioles turned to their bullpen to bring in Independent League and fireballer, Craig Jacquez. Jacquez made quick work of shutting out Spirits hitters for the final two innings. Jacquez proceeded to strike out four Spirits and only allowed a single base runner after he tagged Stacha with a pitch.
Heading into the storybook bottom-of-the-ninth scenario, Showalter chose to stick with Aponte, the horse that had gotten them through the game thus far and who had the experience behind him going into the scenario. “Duane had been going really strong up to that point. The way I saw it, he only needed nine pitches to shut down the Orioles in the bottom of the eighth, so I felt he had enough left in the tank and we decided to see if he could finish the job,” commented Showalter on the decision to keep in his starter. “In hindsight, I think I may have left him out there too long. The advantage was with the Orioles hitters getting another crack at him now that I re-think it, but we’ll learn from the decision and make changes moving forward.”
As it turns out, the inning started in promising fashion for Aponte and the Spirits. Facing the bottom of the Orioles order, Aponte started off by striking out Xavier De La Soujeole on five pitches. Faught returned to the dish for another shot against Aponte, and in deja vu fashion, he took the first pitch he saw from Aponte into right field for a double. In what turned out to be a fateful decision, Showalter gambled one too many times by letting Aponte face Cole for the third time in the contest.
“Duane had owned Cole up to this point in the game,” continued Showalter. “He hadn’t hit a ball out of the infield in his first two appearances, so I felt the advantage was ours to squeeze Cole and to keep Faught from scoring. From that point, we’d get after Bellington who was 0 for 2 from the plate.”
Unfortunately for the Spirits it was Cole’s turn to play the hero. Cole took the first pitch he saw into shallow left-center field for a single, and as the ball fell in, Faught made his way around third to cross the plate and to seal a walk-off victory for the birds.
Following his team’s loss, Showalter rounded up the heartbreaker in his post game comments stating, “It was a hard fought game and a painful one to lose, but I’m still very proud of the guys. It was a solid baseball game between to great teams. I hate to see us waste such a great performance from Duane. I felt he deserved a better fate today, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us.”
The loss drops the team’s record to 10-3, still good enough for second place in the NTABL Open American League Standings, a full game behind the 10-1 Oak Cliff Pelicans. The Spirits (18+) squad returns to action Tuesday night as they host the Braves at Reverchon Park in Uptown, Dallas. Click here for schedule details or to watch the game live online.