By Brendan Nordstrom
Manager Kelly Nicholson said Jo Oyama was one thing: Infectious.
It’s a word that’s been mentioned or alluded to when anyone is asked about the University of California Irvine second baseman.
Following Saturday’s All-Star Game in Harwich — Oyama earned the title of East Division MVP in the contest — he went cold at the plate, going hitless in back-to-back contests.
“The other team started pitching me differently,” the reigning Cape League Player of the Week said. “They kind of know me now, so they pitch to me while still trying to make adjustments.”
Oyama wanted to flush it.
“It’s just frustrating,” Oyama said. “It’s a new day, new game so just sit through my approach and play my game.”
Oyama played his game. And it’s no surprise the team was infected.
From the first at-bat of the game, Oyama was feeling it. He crushed a lead-off home run after taking the first two balls.
“I was trying to do some damage on it,” Oyama said, humbly adding, “It worked out well.”
When Oyama came up to the plate in the fourth inning, he took a different approach. Yet, he was still able to put it over the fence for his second home run of the game.
“Every time he doesn’t get a hit,” Nicholson said, “he’s an at-bat closer to doing what he did tonight.”
Oyama, who also hit a deep double in the eighth inning, lit a spark in the Firebirds (18-18) lineup as a 10-hit day at the plate was backed up by lockdown pitching performances in a 10-6 win over the Wareham Gatemen.
“The offense really came to play tonight,” starting pitcher Derek Clark said. “It makes my life a whole lot easier on the mound when I got the run support.”
Clark had what Nicholson called a “typical DC” outing.
In front of 3,393 fans, Clark went six full frames with six strikeouts and only one free pass given out. He gave out no earned runs despite three crossing on at the expense of an error.
“I know we don’t mean to make errors and things like that, but they’re going to happen. It’s baseball,” Clark said. “I just had the confidence in myself and the guys behind me.”
The Firebirds, who have recorded 17 hits across the last two games but only two runs to show for it, were finally able to cash in runs on Tuesday evening.
“They had a better approach at the plate today,” Nicholson said. “It was a mindset when there were guys in scoring position, we’re going to drive them in, because we squandered a lot of opportunities yesterday.”
It’s the first time Oyama has led off a game with a home run but recording a hit in the one spot is nothing new — he bats .434 in the first inning since taking over at the top.
With two outs in the second inning, third baseman Brandon Stahlman hit a signature single through the right side. Right fielder Colin Tuft laced a much-needed single to right field. Then, catcher Henry Hunter ripped a double over the third base bag for a 2-0 lead.
The Gatemen, coming off of a doubleheader split yesterday, were not going to be subdued. Wareham second baseman Dorian Gonzalez recorded the team’s first hit on a single to lead off the third. DH Bayram Hot hit a grounder to Stahlman, but he fumbled the ball for an E5 with two outs.
A weak infield single loaded the bases for third baseman Michael Brooks, who hit a 2-RBI single over a leaping Oyama. With runners on the corners, the Gatemen pulled out their bag of tricks with a delayed steal by Brooks to take a 3-2 lead.
“I don’t think [the team] thought, ‘Oh gosh, we committed an error. Poor us,’” Nicholson said. “I just had a feeling we were going to score some runs tonight, and they did.”
The Firebirds proved they could grind two-out rallies — now it was time for them to prove they have fireworks.
First baseman Matt Halbach was nicked in the shin for his eighth hit-by-pitch of the summer in the third. Wareham starter Will Koger threw three-straight balls to left fielder Eddie Micheletti Jr., leading to a mound meeting. After the huddle dispersed, Koger threw ball four.
Center fielder Eddie King Jr., coming off of his first three-hit game of the summer, cracked a ball to deep right field, hooking it over the wall for his second home run of the summer, and a 5-3 lead.
Hunter reached for the second time of the night with a one-out walk during the fourth inning to flip the lineup to Oyama, who constantly finds new ways to impress. Oyama hit his second home run of the night — his fourth of the season.
“I was just trying to hit the ball fair, in play,” Oyama said. “It just worked out. I was so hyped.”
The Firebirds piled it on in the seventh inning. Halbach, who has been consistent with six hits in the last seven games, smacked a triple to the deepest part of Eldredge. He eventually scored on a wild pitch by Wareham reliever Jake Faherty.
If Orleans’ cake needed icing, Tuft provided the buttercream topping after hitting the team’s fourth long ball of the game over the left-field wall for a 10-3 advantage.
Firebirds reliever Chase Hungate was able to keep the Wareham bats silent for two straight frames before the Gatemen scratched three runs in the ninth. Hungate completed the nine-out save as Orleans returned to .500 with a 10-6 victory.
It is a much-needed win for Orleans as they travel to Falmouth for the final time this season for a 6:00 p.m. first pitch.
“Just keep it going,” Oyama said, being swarmed by young fans waiting for an autograph. “Stay with our approach and just play baseball.”