By Jack Loder
There are winners and losers in every tie. In Sunday night’s Cape Cod league opener, however, the Orleans Firebirds were on both the right and wrong side of a season opening draw, finishing even at 4-4 with the YD Red Sox after leading 3-0 early and 4-3 late. The Firebirds were out-hit 11-5, and left fewer men on base than their Eastern division rival. The unique record of 0-0-1 is both a blessing and a curse.
“We had four runs on five hits. They had 11,” Nicholson said. “To be honest with you, I thought they might have played a little bit better than us tonight. When another team plays a little better than you, and you don’t come out with a loss, take that. Ties are rare in baseball.”
With no extra innings, Orleans entered the bottom of the ninth with a low stakes win or tie situation. After leadoff man Kevin Sim legged out an infield single to begin the inning, he was immediately erased when Garret Pennington bounced into a double play. YD secured a game ending strikeout sending both teams home without extreme emotion either way.
“It’s weird to tie for sure,” Keaschall said. “But I hate losing more than anything in the world so I’d rather tie.”
If the Orleans hitters were feeling some rust after taking a few weeks off following the end of their collegiate seasons, they didn’t show it in their first opportunity. The first three Firebirds reached. Luke Keaschall and Brock Rodden picked up RBIs in the first frame, aided by an error by YD third baseman Mike Boeve. Nevada’s Jacob Stinson drove in the final run of the inning with a two out two strike single to right.
The outing for Firebird starter Wyatt Loncar was a quick one. The towering right-hander lasted just three innings, but was effective aside from a couple of long balls that hurt his final line. After Orleans jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead in the home half of the first, Y-D was able to get back in the game and then draw even with a two run shot and a solo blast in the second and third innings. Both homers went out to straight left field.
“It was alright. Work in progress,” Loncar said, touching on his issues with the home run tonight. “I have to be better on my 0-2 pitches, not trying to be too fine but also not trying to give them anything too good to hit. Great to see the performance from the rest of the pitchers tonight filling up the zone.”
The Firebirds didn’t wait long to play some long ball of their own in the home half of the third. Luke Keaschall, who starred in Orleans last summer, roped his first hit of the season deep down the left field line. It barely snuck over the fence in the corner, giving Orleans the lead back and sending the Firebird faithful into a frenzy.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and keep it simple,” Keaschall said. “Early in that at bat I saw a lot of soft stuff, heavy off speed. I was kind of sitting slider, and he ended up throwing me a great fastball and i took it.”
Pitchers in the middle innings for both teams put on an exhibition on opening night. For Orleans, it was AJ Blubaugh making his Cape Cod league debut. He allowed just one hit in two shutout frames, striking out three Red Sox through the fourth and fifth innings. A lack of bullpen depth often plagued the Firebirds last summer, identifying a reliable path to the ninth inning will be vital if Kelly Nicholson’s squad plans on competing for an Eastern Division title.
Looking to empty the clip on opening night, Nicholson went to southpaw Cam Jones in the sixth. The Georgia State two way stud breezed through the sixth and got the first two outs in the top of the seventh before running into trouble. YD’s Cole Carrigg turned on an inside fastball in a 1-2 count, depositing the Red Sox’ third home run of the game over the left field wall.
Overall, a six inning one run performance by the Firebird bullpen is a great omen for th rest of the summer.
“We take that every night. Those guys did a great job,” Nicholson said. “Blubaugh was impressive, Cam Jones impressive. Lot to like from them tonight.”
Orleans travels to Hyannis on Monday night, and will look to get in the win column. Either way, they’ll likely be in one of the columns. An opening night tie isn’t what was expected, but Orleans will take it all things considered.