By Brendan Nordstrom
The 2023 Firebirds are special.
There’s a feeling in every deficit that they can come back. There’s energy with every strike thrown by an Orleans pitcher. There’s a belief in one another.
“I think we have something special in this group that keeps pushing us,” starting pitcher Ivran Romero said. “That’s why we keep winning.”
In the playoffs, having that sort of mentality is even more important.
“There’s nothing like it. I think it’s the best playoff scene in any sport,” left fielder Eddie Micheletti Jr. said. “Everyone’s into it. Fans are all into it. It’s playoff baseball.”
So, when the Firebirds went scoreless in six-straight innings in game two against the Harwich Mariners, they believed they could come back.
“They care about one another. They like being at the ballpark. They like competing,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “They don’t want to go home.”
The Firebirds won’t be going home yet as they scored three-straight runs on Saturday evening to complete the opening round sweep of the Mariners with a 4-2 win.
“It’s just a testament to our energy and mentality of not giving up and going forward,” Micheletti said. “Both of these games show that we’re in it for all nine. And that’s how we played tonight.”
The game showcased pitching once again — just as it had in the final regular season meeting between these two teams and in yesterday’s game one of the series.
“When it’s a pitcher’s duel, it’s more fun,” Romero said. “It’s you versus him. And when you have such an amazing team behind you, it makes it even more fun.”
The Mariners threw left-hander Tom Chmielewski, who won the team’s best pitcher award prior to the game, to start. The Firebirds didn’t score a run until the tailend of the ninth inning last night in what would be a 2-1 walk-off win.
The Firebirds kept that momentum up in the first inning with a two-out rally. Jack Penney, last night’s hero, worked a five-pitch walk before Matt Halbach singled through the right side. Micheletti then took the first pitch of his at-bat to center field to take an early 1-0 lead.
“He’s throwing fastballs,” Micheletti said. “I just wanted to get my head out and drive it up the middle, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Unfortunately, that was all Orleans could muster on Chmielewski, as he faced the minimum across the next two frames. Halbach’s lead-off single in the fourth was for naut as it was followed by three-straight outs.
“Really good pitching,” Nicholson said as the key to the game. “Their guys threw the ball well. Our guys threw the ball well. Just good pitching.”
Orleans started right-hander Ivran Romero, who looked very good in his six innings of work. Last time Romero started a game at Whitehouse Field, he went four innings of hitless, scoreless baseball in what would be a 12-0 victory on July 13.
Romero was dominant this time around as well. After a one-out single in the first, he sat down the next five in order. However, his only blemish was the third inning.
A full-count walk to Harwich’s Talmadge LeCroy and a Danniel Rivera single into left field put the first two batters on. Ali Camarillo — who scored the Mariners only run yesterday on a solo home run — was once again productive with a sacrifice bunt.
Kevin Keister then hit a sacrifice fly to give the Mariners their first run, and Ethan Anderson hit an RBI single off first baseman Halbach’s glove to take the lead.
“I got a little wild,” Romero said with a laugh. “I just tried to keep my head down and keep competing. Control the controllables. At the end of the day, if that’s what you do, and you give it 100%, you can’t ask for anything else.”
And with runs at a premium — a one-run lead is all the more dangerous.
The Firebirds couldn’t figure out left-hander Griffin Kirn for his first three innings of work.
In the eighth inning, however, Justin Rubin worked a full-count lead-off walk. Penney just got under a pitch for the first out, and then Halbach stepped up to the plate.
Halbach then took a pitch to right field to put runners on first and second. Micheletti once again came through with a single under the first baseman’s glove that scored Rubin.
“I was just trying to hit it the other way, let it travel,” Micheletti said. “He threw a slider, and I just got the bat head on it and drove it.”
The Mariners sounded the alarms, calling for reliever Dax Dathe. With Halbach on third base, Eddie King Jr. battled in a nine-pitch at-bat before hitting a deep sacrifice fly to take a 3-2 lead. Dathe then walked Brandon Stahlman ending his extremely short day on the mound.
In just one pitch, reliever Matthew Boynton ended the inning, but the damage had already been done.
The Firebirds tacked some very important insurance in the top of the ninth after Fenwick Trimble hit a shot at Mariners first baseman Ethan Anderson, who mishandled the ball. Jo Oyama followed it up with a walk to put two on with no outs.
Boynton may have struck out Rubin, but Harwich manager Steve Englert had seen enough, electing to go to closer Cole Roland.
It didn’t matter. Penney hit a ball in the exact same spot he did last night to score an RBI single for a 4-2 lead.
The Mariners had gone down in order in the seventh and eighth inning at the hands of Orleans reliever Jaden Winter. Now, down to their final three outs, they faced an uphill battle against the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Outstanding Relief Pitcher recipient Sean Matson.
“A two-run lead with Sean Matson in this ballpark, you feel pretty good,” Nicholson said.
Matson shut them down to advance the Firebirds to the East Division Championship round for the first time since 2017.
Brewster and Yarmouth-Dennis will face off in a rubber match tomorrow to determine which team will face the Firebirds in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, Orleans has the day off and return to the field on Monday.
“They want to win the next series. They want to win the whole thing,” Nicholson said. “In my experience the team with the most desire usually comes out of here on top.”