By Brendan Nordstrom
Manager Kelly Nicholson calls games like this “a typical Cape game.”
The Orleans Firebirds brought out Grand Canyon’s Daniel Avitia for the third time this season. The righty has been lights out with a shutout through four innings on Opening Day, and one earned run across five in his last performance against Cotuit.
The Harwich Mariners started Andrew Armstrong for his second outing of the season. Armstrong took the Bourne Braves five innings, allowing no runs to two hits.
It would also be the third time the Mariners and Firebirds had faced off, with Harwich dominating their cross-division foe for a combined margin of 22-5. On the other hand, Orleans was fresh off of a commanding 13-2 victory over the Brewster Whitecaps on Thursday.
With Armstrong and Avitia on the mound, it sure wasn’t going to look as crooked.
And it wasn’t. The Mariners were just one clutch swing better than the Firebirds (5-7) on Friday evening as Orleans dropped their first game since June 19. Completing in just over two hours, it was nothing short of a pitcher’s duel.
“They pitched well. We pitched well. They played a little bit better,” Nicholson said. “Just a little bit better.”
The Firebirds drew first blood in the fourth inning when right fielder Fenwick Trimble used his power to lift a 2-0 pitch over the head of center fielder Devin Obee. Trimble slid into third for the Firebirds’ second triple of the season and second in as many games.
Left fielder Eddie Micheletti Jr., who hammered a three-run home run yesterday, dropped another coin in his RBI bank — his season total is now a team-leading seven. Obee experienced déjà vu as Micheletti’s hit flew over his head for a double.
Armstrong applied gauze, freezing the Firebirds at one run to end his day on the mound. His efficient outing was somehow outdone by right-handed reliever Aidan Moza, who retired the first 11 Firebirds he faced.
“Those guys threw the ball well tonight,” Nicholson said. “[Armstrong] was good, and [Moza] was good.”
Moza stayed clean through his five-inning outing, striking out six. It wasn’t without threat, however.
Second baseman Jo Oyama, who led off the game with a single, laced a two-out triple under the glove of a diving Obee for his second three-bagger of the young season. A groundout spoiled the opportunity in the eighth.
Oyama went hitless in his first three games of the season but stepped up recently with eight hits in the last five, including two triples.
“It takes a little time, it takes a couple of weeks, and that’s about where we are,” Nicholson said about players finding their groove. “We’re about a quarter of the way, that’s about the time guys start to make adjustments.”
On the other side of the pitcher’s duel stood Avitia.
“I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff,” Avitia said.
Luckily for Orleans, not having his best stuff meant Avitia went four shutout frames. He said he was trying to find control in his fastball, so his changeup was the go-to pitch. The Mariners recorded a baserunner in each frame — two by walks, two by hits. Avitia was able to close the door each time.
“[My approach was] just to throw my game, and good things will happen,” Avitia said. “My motto is just to give it my all for my team.”
Lefty Derek Clark came out of the bullpen in the fifth inning. A full-count walk would eventually tie the game as Obee and designated hitter Hunter Fitz-Gerald each recorded a single to opposite sides of the field.
Harwich catcher Bryan Arendt put the final nail in the coffin in the sixth with a two-out no-doubt home run that traveled well past the left field wall for a 2-1 advantage.
Clark was replaced by a new face in Firebirds’ red — righty Sam Hliboki. The Vanderbilt arm went 1.2 innings, striking out three in his brief first appearance.
“Typical Sam’s going to be a lot of strikes,” Nicholson said. “He knows how to pitch, he’s a veteran.”
Orleans had life in the ninth inning thanks to a lead-off single by Micheletti. Third baseman Jack Penney reached on a fielder’s choice to put runners on the corners, but the Firebirds couldn’t plate their second run.
The Firebirds have the opportunity to bounce back against the Hyannis Harbor Hawks at Eldredge Park tomorrow with a 6:30 p.m. first pitch. Orleans defeated Hyannis in their first meeting on Opening Day in dramatic 4-1 fashion.
“We play like that tomorrow,” Nicholson said, “we’ll have a chance to win the game.”