By Jack Loder
Good pitching has a way of masking a lot of flaws. The Orleans Firebirds’ dominant arms have done just that, spinning gem after gem in both winning and losing efforts. For the most part, the arms haven’t been the issue. It didn't hurt them in Sunday’s 1-0 win against Chatham, but it certainly did on Monday at the Angler’s house. After leading early, Orleans was shut out in the final eight innings and fell apart late, falling 7-1 to the hosts on a picturesque holiday evening in Chatham.
“You’re not going to win many games scoring one run in the Cape. We would have had to shut them out to win tonight,” Kelly Nicholson said. “We were chasing runs all night, and hey their guys pitched well. We’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
It’s worth noting that offensive numbers have been down all over the league this season. Orleans isn’t the only team that has struggled to put traffic on the bases and subsequently to drive in runs when presented with those opportunities. But it’s been particularly painful for the Firebirds because of that dominant pitching. It’s fair to say Orleans would be at or near the top of the league had they cashed in on run scoring opportunities in any number of close low scoring losses.
The bats have been streaky, for better or for worse. When they slump they slump together, when they’re hot they’re hot in unison. The feast or famine results don’t change the approach, according to those who swing the sticks.
“We try to keep things simple and consistent no matter what,” catcher Garret Guillemette said following a 4-0 loss to Y-D on Friday night.
Orleans wasted no time starting the scoring on Monday night after going scoreless for the final seven innings of Sunday’s victory. The Birds used some two out magic to strike first. Jack Bulger laced a single to left with two down and nobody on, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Kevin Sim took advantage of the run scoring opportunity by ripping a double down the left field line, scoring Bulger easily.
Reilly gave up the lead in the home half of the fourth as Chatham finally broke a biblical dry spell at the plate with a two run bomb on to the right center field berm. It’s tough to say who needed Nolan Ledford’s blast more between the Chatham dugout and their frustrated fans, but both groups were jubilant as the ball easily cleared the wall.
The Anglers added another run in the fifth, then another in the seventh. As the lead grew to four, it seemed insurmountable given the Firebirds’ offensive swoon. By the time the Anglers added three in the eighth, the Birds were as good as dead.
As the summer goes on, Nicholson is beginning to stretch out his starters. On Sunday night it was Donye Evans working efficiently into the sixth inning. On Monday, Patrick Reilly was able to make his way into the fifth despite braving some laborious at bats. In the first couple weeks, Nicholson kept his starting arms to a strict three inning limit regardless of their performance. Roles are more cemented at this point in the summer and with that comes a longer leash, especially when the bread and butter of the team has been its success on the mound. The decision to elongate outings has been an easy one for Nicholson. His pitchers have earned it.
“It’s both what we do every year and based on the performance of the starters,” Nicholson said when asked about lengthening outings. “I thought Reilly threw the ball well tonight overall. Made one mistake on location in an 0-2 count but other than that there was a lot to like.”
Orleans continues to tread water in the Cape Cod standings. They’ve weathered some early season struggles in order to stay afloat, but need to make a move in the next week if a postseason berth is in their August plans. The Birds are back at it on Tuesday, as they host Brewster in a makeup game at Eldredge Park.