By Jack Loder
Jack Bulger surprised everyone in Cotuit when he took off for third base on a 2-0 pitch with first and second and nobody out in the top of the eighth. Connor Burns, likely squaring to bunt as a decoy, pulled the bat back and took a strike. Cotuit catcher Jimmy Obertop stood out of his crouch, and almost incredulously fired a strike to third that cut down Bulger by nearly 15 feet. In a scoreless tie, the mistake was an inexcusable one.
The botched steal seemed like the latest chapter in a novel featuring several squandered run scoring opportunities for the Firebirds, but Nate Furman had other ideas. He roped a two out two strike curveball right back up the middle, scoring Nik McClaughry from second and breaking a scoreless tie that seemed to be padlocked through seven innings. The Birds would blow it open late, cruising to a 7-0 victory over the Kettleers.
“I just wanted to put together a good AB, in those spots it’s easy to let the moment get to you but you have to stick to your routine,” Furman said. “I try to stay in the present and do what I can to help us win.”
Cam Walty breezed through the bottom of the eighth inning, punctuating his one inning of work with a gorgeous swinging strikeout on a 3-2 breaking ball. Walty will see an expanded role for the rest of the summer as both Cooper McKeehan and AJ Blubaugh have departed ahead of the draft.
The Firebirds then did something that has eluded them for much of the summer in the top of the ninth. They went insurance shopping. Only needing some milk and eggs, Orleans left the store with a cart full of goods. They brought nine batters to the plate and tallied six runs, turning a one run nailbiter into a 7-0 snoozer. The blow that put Cotuit to sleep came courtesy of Luke Keaschall, belting a two out three run double off the wall in left center. With one out and the bases juiced two batters earlier, Garret Guillemette pinch hit for Burns and bounced a two run single up the middle and past the drawn in infield, giving Orleans a 3-0 lead.
“Keaschall’s hit was huge, Gilly’s hit was probably bigger, and of course Nate came through earlier,” Kelly Nicholson said. “It was a chain reaction. We’re not doing anything differently I just think the guys are getting much more experience swinging wood bats and they’re really starting to get good results.”
Any baseball related attempt to properly explain how dominant the pitching was in this game on both sides through the first seven frames would likely be futile. I’ll use other examples. The sun didn’t set below the towering tree line behind the grandstand on the third base side until the top half of the eighth. The snack shack at Lowell park, which usually shuts down the grill in the middle of the seventh, had to keep it open into the ninth in order to meet their quota and cater to the dinner hour that is usually finished by the time the final third of a nine inning ballgame rolls around. Perhaps most notably, neither manager made more than one trip to the mound prior to the eighth. A night after Orleans put up nine runs in a win and Cotuit tallied five in a victory of its own,
Chris Clark got his first start of the summer for the Firebirds and he was simply dominant. The Harvard right hander went four shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out two. He pitched to the fly ball on a day where the ball was not flying at Lowell Park. Travis Honeyman made four putouts while Clark was on the mound, and a number of infield pop ups completed his sterling outing.
“He likes the starting role, he came to us wanting more innings and he’s taken that on really well,” Nicholson said. “I liked the fact that he didn’t give up any runs. He was 95 and he came out confident. He clutched up for us tonight.”
There were some fireworks in both halves of the seventh inning. Cam Jones ripped a base hit over the head of the first baseman, he aggressively made a dash for second base, and was beat by a gorgeous throw from right fielder Calvin Harris. Jones wasn’t dead just yet, as he made a nifty slide and appeared to get under the tag. The second base umpire disagreed, however, and his opinion is the only that matters. There was a similar play in the home half, when Eddie Park of Cotuit laced a base hit to left center. He took off for second and just barely beat a throw by Travis Honeyman. It looked like the throw and tag had been in time, but the call again went against Orleans. Josh Allen was able to retire the next two Kettleers to make it moot, but the second base bag wasn’t kind to the birds in the seventh frame.
Cotuit’s Ben Johnson was equally dominant in his start. Nobody in the Orleans lineup was able to figure out the lanky right hander, as he struck out seven in his 4.2 innings of work.
After dropping three straight, Orleans has won two in a row. They’ll look to make it three of a kind on Friday night against Harwich at Eldredge park.