By Brendan Nordstrom
There are some wins where it feels as if the world freezes after the final out.
Left-handed reliever Derek Clark entered Monday night’s contest with 26 outs already recorded and an 8-6 lead. Clark inherited runners at the corners, before inducing a slow roller to second baseman Jo Oyama, who tossed the ball to Johnny Olmstead at first for the win.
But, it wasn’t just any win.
“We knew going into the game it was his 400th,” designated hitter Matt Halbach said. “We wanted to get it really bad, so we were all locked in. We got it. It was awesome.”
Manager Kelly Nicholson, in his 18th season as skipper of the Orleans Firebirds, walked out of the dugout, tipping his cap to the home crowd and meeting all of his players, who each gave him and a handshake and a hug. And, of course, a Gatorade shower to go along with it.
History was made, and, for just a moment, the world froze.
“I’m glad I got to celebrate with this group,” Nicholson, the seventh manager in Cape history to cross the threshold, said. “It makes me think of all the players that we’ve had here in the past 18 years that have been a part of this.”
The win was earned against the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in an 8-6 fireworks-filled game — you would have thought the Fourth of July came a day early. A combined 27 hits, six extra-base knocks and 11 pitchers filled a back-and-forth victory for two teams that haven’t played each other since Opening Day.
“It feels good to get win number 10 in all honesty,” Nicholson said. “It was a little bit of a crazy game. I was proud of the way our guys responded.”
After alternating between wins and losses the past 10 games, the Firebirds (10-10) walked off Wareham last night in a 7-6 contest. Tonight, the Firebirds finally earned the winning streak — something the team emphasized before the game.
“We really wanted to get this one, carry the momentum and get this thing rolling,” Hunter said. “We’re one win away from really taking off.”
The Firebirds attacked early as Halbach led off the second with a line drive past a diving second baseman. Then, catcher Henry Hunter sent his first home run of the summer into the Orleans bullpen for a 2-0 lead.
“There’s a long time coming for that one … I’ve been doing a lot of different work,” Hunter said. “It felt really, really good.”
But if you’re a fan of home runs, you’re in luck as the Harbor Hawks responded with a couple of their own in the third.
Hyannis had been putting good contact on starting pitcher Dylan Jacobs but were unable to crack it open in their first two innings at the plate.
In the third, left fielder Nick Mitchell crushed a ball to the deepest part of the park, but the cavernous Eldredge didn’t relent, keeping it short of the fence for a ground rule double.
A five-pitch walk set up second baseman Cameron Smith, whose emphatic bat flip meant a no-doubter, go-ahead home run well past leaping left fielder Andy Blake. Center fielder Will Taylor followed it up with a solo shot of his own in nearly the exact same spot.
“It happens,” Nicholson said. “They hit homers of Kershaw, they’re gonna hit homers off Dylan Jacobs.”
Nearly batting through the order, the Firebirds responded with two runs of their own. With the bases loaded and two outs, center fielder Eddie King Jr. lined a single up the middle to knot the game at four.
Jacobs let up a lead-off single to end his day in the fourth inning. Nicholson called for debuting right-handed sidewinder Chase Hungate, who faced a formidable challenge in Smith to start his outing.
Smith hit an RBI single back up the middle before first baseman Austin Kelly hit an RBI double in the right field gap to steal the two runs back and grab a 6-4 advantage.
The next three innings were quiet — a little too quiet.
The Orleans bullpen after Hungate, which was made up of six different arms, remained stain free on the scoreboard in what would be a key to turning the game in the Firebirds’ favor.
“We settled in on the mound, and I think that really made the difference,” Hunter said. “We were able to make pitches and pitch our game and have confidence.”
The Harbor Hawks bullpen could not say the same.
The Firebirds started the seventh inning with three straight singles. Blake chipped a ball into no man’s land for a lead-off single, Halbach blooped on into center field and right fielder Fenwick Trimble lined another up the middle
With the bases loaded, Hyannis reliever Hiroyuki Yamada balked to put the Firebirds back within one. King was hit in his elbow guard to reload the bases when Hunter hit a routine ground ball to first. Playing in to prevent the run, Kelly fired the ball home, but it fell off the catcher’s glove to plate the tying and the winning runs.
Oyama then hit an insurance sacrifice fly for Orleans’ eighth run.
“We were still confident we’d get the win,” Halbach said. “We knew it was going to be a slugging fest, and knowing that, we got the win.”
The Firebirds will look to stay hot on the Fourth of July with a 6:30 p.m. contest against the Chatham Anglers in front of the home crowd once again.
Despite the festivities and the accomplishment, Nicholson looks forward to the next game, breaking it down to the four phases of the game: running the bases, playing good defense, throwing strikes and putting the ball in play.
“We do that, we’ll have a chance,” Nicholson said. “We don’t, we get beat tomorrow.”