By Greg Joyce
Orleans, Mass. — After a hectic week of roster transactions, cross-country flights, and just three practices with brand new teammates, the Orleans Firebirds finally took the field at Eldredge Park on Friday night to open up their 2011 Cape Cod Baseball League season. Tyler Johnson (Stony Brook) pitched six innings of scoreless baseball, Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) drove in the eventual game-winning run in the first inning, and Steve Nyisztor (Rutgers) added a solo shot in the fourth for a little breathing room, as the Firebirds (1-0) secured a 2-0 win over the Harwich Mariners (0-1).
Orleans got on the scoreboard early in the bottom of the first inning. Will Piwnica-Worms (Duke) led off with a slow chopper in between the third baseman and the short stop, and hustled down the line for an infield single. One batter later, Maxx Tissenbaum (Stony Brook) lined a pitch into center field to put runners at first and second. Nyisztor then drew a five-pitch walk to load the bases with one out. The next batter was Waldrip, who battled off multiple pitches before hitting a fly ball down the left field line that the Harwich left fielder caught in fairly deep foul territory. Piwnica-Worms was tagging from third base on the play, and was able to score easily. Likely thinking that the relay from left was going to home plate, Nyisztor was caught in between first and second, and was thrown out back at first to complete the 7-5-3 double play, but not before it was 1-0 Orleans.
Johnson settled in on the mound early for the Firebirds, needing just 38 pitches to get through the first four innings. In three of those innings, the Stony Brook righty shut down the Mariners in order. In the other inning, Johnson allowed only one hit, but his catcher, Jake Hernandez (USC), helped him out by gunning down that runner.
“It was really important for us,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said of Johnson’s low pitch count early. “Once [the pitchers] hit 75 pitches or five or six innings, we’re going to keep a real short leash on them.”
With a short bullpen due to players still arriving on the Cape, Johnson’s longevity in the game was crucial for the team.
In the bottom of the fourth, Nyisztor made up for his base-running blunder in the first by smoking a pitch over the fence and the netting in left field to make it 2-0. It was a smooth swing from Nyisztor, and the ball went flying into the parking lot in left on the first bomb of the year for the Firebirds.
“It was good to see Nyisztor do that,” Nicholson said. “He stepped on that ball a little bit. I’m sure it was good for his confidence, and his was nice to see him get off to a good start.”
Though he only finished with two strikeouts, Johnson saved one for when he needed it most. After retiring the first two batters in the top of the sixth inning, Johnson allowed an infield hit and a walk, and there was action in the bullpen. But just when it looked Harwich had him on the ropes, Johnson struck out Mac Doyle (Wofford) to end the inning and complete his scoreless performance
“It was good that he kind of battled out of a little bit of a jam,” Nicholson said. “That was good for him.”
Johnson finished the game throwing six innings, recording 78 pitches, two strikeouts, one walk, and three hits. 12 of the 18 batters that Johnson retired were via ground balls, a huge key for his success according to Nicholson.
“I thought he did a good job keeping the ball down,” Nicholson said. “He got a lot of ground balls, and that’s what he does best. He just attacked the strike zone early with a lot of fastballs, and that’s what [pitching coach Jason Brown] had talked to him about. I think early in the season, the pitchers are going to be a little bit ahead of the hitters, and he did a good job of attacking the zone and keeping the ball down.”
After Johnson’s exit, John Brebbia (Elon) threw two innings of scoreless ball, and Trevor Gott (Kentucky) worked the ninth for a 1-2-3 inning to pick up his first save of the season.
“Brebbia did a nice job, and Trevor Gott obviously did a nice job,” Nicholson added. “I was really pleased with our pitching tonight.”
Tyler Johnson recorded his first win of the season for Orleans, while Pierce Johnson (Missouri State) was hit with the loss for Harwich.
Despite the busy weeks leading up to opening night, it was smooth sailing for the Orleans pitching staff, and the bats helped them out. Although the Firebirds were outhit five to four, they made their four hits count, leading to the 2-0 victory.
The Firebirds will take the field again tonight at Eldredge Park at 7:00 pm, when they’ll host the Bourne Braves. Be sure to tune in to www.orleansfirebirds.com tonight and all season long for live streaming video and audio of the game with Firebirds broadcasters Lauren Pogulis and Tom Quinlan.