By Brendan Nordstrom
Sean Matson. Hunter Hines.
The Firebirds’ lights-out closer who has allowed no hits in 6.2 innings faced off against the Red Sox designated hitter who leads the league in home runs.
The last blades of sunshine had disappeared into the horizon at Red Wilson Field. Layers of fog mobilized, taking Orleans left fielder Eddie Micheletti Jr. captive as the luminescent neon red from the scoreboard — that read 5-4 visitor — broke through the Sunday evening haze.
Hines single-handedly kept Y-D in the game with a solo home run in the third and a three-run go-ahead shot in the seventh. On the other side, Matson eliminated a threat in the ninth to push the game to extras.
Now, in the tenth, each stared the other down. Hines may have hit two home runs, but he still needed to prove himself to the Harvard righty.
“I threw that fastball up, saw him chase it,” Matson said. “I’m just gonna stick with that until he proves he can get on it.”
It was a bullpen day for Orleans. Seven different pitchers toed the rubber for the Firebirds. Manager Kelly Nicholson said he was trying to “mix and match” to win lefty-on-lefty matchups and righty-on-righty matchups. Matson is different.
“Yeah, we trust him,” Nicholson said. “It doesn’t matter right or left with Matson.”
“A little bit of adrenaline feels good,” Matson said. “You’re just on cloud nine out there.”
Matson struck out the next two batters to win the Firebirds’ (6-7) first extra innings game of the season against the top-seeded Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox on Sunday.
“I love the way our guys responded,” Nicholson said. “It’s a super high character group with a lot of fight in ‘em.”
The Firebirds, fresh off of a heart-racing 2-1 loss to the Harwich Mariners, bounced back against the best team in the East Division.
The Firebirds struck first in the third inning when catcher Owen Carapellotti skied a ball to left field, but the wind took the ball away from RJ Austin, who dropped it for a two-bag error. A ground-out moved Carapellotti to third and a wild pitch scored him. The wild pitch wouldn’t have mattered as the next batter, second baseman Jo Oyama, ripped a triple down the right-field line.
Oyama wasn’t retired once throughout the entirety of the contest, reaching on two hits, two walks and an error. Oyama now leads the team in batting average with a triple in each of the last three games.
“The guy that’s at the top of the order, you’d like to have a high-OBP guy, and that’s what [Oyama] is,” Nicholson said. “He’s dangerous.”
The Firebirds poured it on in the fourth with a lead-off double from Micheletti into no man’s land in right field. DH Andy Blake hit a frozen rope over the second baseman’s head to put runners at the corners. Carapellotti hit an RBI single to right field, and first baseman Jake Hyde hit a sac-fly to extend their lead by two.
The Firebirds’ pitching was once again top-notch. Starting pitcher Jake Peppers made his third start and second against Y-D with five strikeouts and one run through four innings. Right-handed flame thrower Greyson Carter managed to strike out King, who had only struck out once prior, in his inning of work. And, of course, Matson closed the door.
The game became interesting in the seventh inning when debuting Orleans lefty Chase Lummus walked back-to-back batters. Danny Carrion came in relief, recording the first two outs. However, Hines did what he does best and took his first pitch over the fence for a 4-3 advantage.
Third baseman Jack Penney wasn’t going to be outdone. With two outs in the eighth, Penney fed the foliage in right field with a solo shot to deadlock the game once again.
Going into extras, Fenwick Trimble was the “ghost runner” for Orleans. With one out, Blake chopped a ball to third but beat out the throw to the chagrin of Y-D’s manager Scott Pickler, who had a lengthy conversation with the umpire. Penney then hit a ball to first baseman Jakob Christian, who was standing on the infield grass. Christian delivered the ball home to save the run but missed wide, keeping everyone safe.
Matson struck out the side in the bottom of the tenth to secure the Firebirds’ most thrilling victory of the season.
Orleans proved they could handle the top team in the East division, and they are tasked with the top team in the West tomorrow, facing off against the Cotuit Kettleers at Lowell Park with a 5:00 p.m. first pitch.
“Just be ourselves,” Matson said on how to keep the momentum up. “All the guys here are here for a reason, so just trust each other.”