By Brendan Nordstrom
That was all manager Kelly Nicholson could say following Monday evening’s game.
“Derek Clark,” Nicholson said. “That’s the comment.”
Clark was a starter at Northwood University for the past three seasons, but he started his summer out of the Orleans bullpen. As one of the most trustworthy arms on the roster, Clark entered his first start of the season with the second-lowest ERA in the league.
“Getting back into the starting role was a lot of fun,” the West Virginia transfer said. “Give Coach Kelly and everybody a chance to win a ballgame.”
Outside of a solo home run given up in the fourth inning, Clark wasn’t feeling generous on the mound. He had everything working, and after a 1-2-3 sixth inning, his day wasn’t done — even though Clark was expecting it to be.
“They’re like, ‘You want to go one more?’” Clark said. “I’m not trying to come off the mound. I want the ball. I’ll go until they tell me to stop.”
Clark’s outing was the longest of any Firebird arm, and possibly any pitcher in the league, this summer. In those seven complete frames, Clark struck out six and allowed no walks.
“I hate walking guys, it’s just free passes,” he said. “Getting ahead of guys, throwing a lot of strikes is the overall goal.”
Closer Sean Matson worked a six-out save with three strikeouts to help shut down the Whitecaps for the fifth time this summer in 4-1 fashion. It’s the first time the Firebirds (15-14) have been above .500 since June 12.
“We just came out here, and we played solid baseball,” left fielder Eddie Micheletti Jr. said. “Not every win is a blowout, but we just out beat them.”
The two teams lauded pitching and defense early in the contest, only exchanging papercuts in the form of isolated walks and the occasional single.
The walls showed cracks, however, as the Firebirds made the first gash in the third. Right fielder Colin Tuft smoked a single up the middle with one out. Flipping the order, Tuft took off for second for a hit-and-run, which second baseman Jo Oyama completed with a single into left. With runners at the corners, designated hitter Justin Rubin hit an RBI fielder’s choice for the first run of the game.
“We moved the baseball,” Nicholson said. “We had enough offense to win tonight.”
Not to be outdone, the Whitecaps responded in the next frame. First baseman Brock Tibbitts lined a no-doubt home run over the left-field wall to even the game.
On the other side of the field, Brewster starter Carson Swilling allowed only three hits in 5.1 innings, but the South Alabama right-hander ran into trouble in the sixth.
Swilling walked Rubin and third baseman Jack Penney back-to-back to start the inning. First baseman Matt Halbach flew out, but that was all Swilling was given. Brewster reliever Rocco Reid gave up an infield single to Micheletti to load the bases.
Shortstop Drew Faurot gave Brewster a tailor-made double play ball but turned on the burners to beat out the throw, scoring Rubin for an insurance run.
“Our approach was just get in the box and pass the baton,” Micheletti said. “Do whatever you can to get on base, put the ball in play, get a walk, and I think we did a really good job with that.”
The insurance doubled in the eighth when Micheletti was hit, bringing in Jake Casey as a pinch runner. A wild pitch moved Casey to second, before Faurot lined an RBI single down the left-field line for a 4-1 Orleans advantage.
Matson closed it up on the defensive end, allowing no walks and striking out three in his two innings of relief to earn his fourth save of the summer.
The Firebirds will have a day off tomorrow, but they will take the trip to the stadium on the hill, going to Doran Park in Bourne for a 6 p.m. first pitch.
“[The team] really likes one another, they like being at the field, they care about one another, they like playing together, and we got a long way to go,” Nicholson said. “One day at a time.”