By Brendan Nordstrom
Jo Oyama stood a few steps off first in the top of the first.
The second baseman from UC Irvine reached by way of a bunt single, using his speedy 5-foot 7-inch frame to beat out the throw, moving center fielder Austin Overn to third.
Brewster starter Jake Marshall checked on Oyama with four pickoff attempts as pace of play fans groaned.
It proved smart as Oyama took off for second on the next pitch. The ball slipped into the outfield, scoring Overn. Oyama flashed his speed again, taking off for third on a wild pitch and scoring on another errant throw. Those runs gave Orleans a 2-0 lead, helped out by speed and three Brewster errors.
“Speed never slumps,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. Running the bases well is one of Nicholson’s keys to winning baseball games.
The speed of the first two men in the lineup lived in the heads of Whitecaps’ pitchers, with Overn inducing 11 pickoff throws in the ninth inning. Overn said it has never happened to him before and that his knees were “burning.”
“He knew I was pretty fast, so even if I’m not stealing, just kind of jumping around over there, moving, causing chaos,” Overn said. “Anyway I can get in the pitcher’s head, I’ll try and do that.”
The offense — and the baserunning — worked early and often for the Firebirds (4-6) as they defeated the Brewster Whitecaps 4-2 for their first East Division win. It’s also the first winning streak of the summer for Orleans as tonight’s contest followed yesterday’s 5-4 win in Falmouth to break a five-game drought. And the energy in the clubhouse is high, Orleans starting pitcher Chad Gartland said after the game.
“It feels great,” Gartland said. “Good at-bats, good innings on the mound, we put those together, and it’s pretty tough to beat us.”
Putting the ball in play and pitching well are two more of Nicholson’s keys to winning to baseball games. The final key is good defense. On the heels of a three-error day in Falmouth, the Firebirds played mistake-free baseball for the third time all season. Double plays in back-to-back innings were the icing on the cake.
With a 2-0 lead in hand, Gartland took the mound for his second outing of the summer. His first was against Cotuit last Friday when he came out of the bullpen for an inning, giving up a homerun but striking out the side.
Tonight, Gartland was lights out, throwing five complete innings with four strikeouts, no runs, no walks and the win.
“There weren’t as many nerves,” Gartland said. “Today I had that first inning under my belt, so it’s a lot easier to go out there and do it.”
When asked what was working well for Gartland, he said simply: “Everything.”
The Whitecaps threatened to score during Gartland’s outing, but the threats turned out to be empty. Brewster led off the second, third and fourth inning with a single. In two of those innings, the Whitecaps placed two runners on, but they couldn’t close the deal.
“Teams are gonna get hits, that’s just what happens,” Gartland said. “As long as I stay composed and do what I know I can do, I know I’ll get out of those jams.”
Following Overn and Oyama’s scores in the first, the Firebirds endured a stretch of 11-straight batters retired. Catcher Henry Hunter worked a walk in the fifth inning and advanced to second on a single. Overn stepped in for what would be his second hit of the day to score Hunter and push the lead to three.
Overn had his struggles early in the summer, and as he said “couldn’t even buy a hit.” But he has recorded hits in three of his last four games, including a three-hit performance tonight — the first of the summer for any Firebird.
Unfortunately for Orleans, Overn will be leaving in the next couple of days to report for Team USA. He said his goal for his final days as a Firebird is to get a few more knocks and win another game.
“I’m gonna miss everyone,” Overn said, “but going to USA is something every kid dreams of.”
The game wasn’t free from controversy, however. In the eighth inning, right fielder Fenwick Trimble took the third pitch of the at-bat deep to dead center field. Whitecaps’ center fielder James Tibbs put his hands in the air to signal a ground-rule double, which it was originally ruled as. Unsure whether or not it bounced or went over the fence, Nicholson left the dugout to ask for an umpire huddle.
The umpires left the huddle and signaled for a homerun, much to the chagrin of Jamie Chevchik, who was ejected.
“Our guys in the dugout seemed to think it went over, so I just wanted to go out and make sure that they got the call right,” Nicholson said.
Brewster didn’t go quietly in eighth inning with a lead-off single. Tibbs answered the call with a no-doubt homerun over the left field wall to cut the lead in half.
The Whitecaps kept their pulse alive in the game’s final frame when Orleans closer Sean Matson hit the first batter of the inning and walked the next to put the winning run at home. Matson struck out the next two and recorded a flyout to end the game for the Firebirds second-straight win.
The Firebirds will face a familiar opponent tomorrow when they rematch the Brewster Whitecaps at Eldredge Park for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch.
“Our culture doesn’t change based on wins and losses,” Nicholson said. “We try to prepare the very best we can every day and compete nightly and then see where the cards fall.”