By: Alec Henden
ORLEANS, Mass. – The 2019 Orleans Firebirds relied all season on their strong pitching staff and high quality defense. Orleans pitchers led the league in shutouts, runs allowed and earned run average while the defense committed the fewest errors of any season in the team’s storied history.
Come postseason time few things can carry a team more than pitching and high-caliber defense. Unfortunately for the Birds, subpar defense and base running blunders did them in during game one of the 2019 Cape Cod League playoffs falling to the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox 7-6 at Eldredge Park.
Orleans’ defense let them down on Friday night, which was surprising to see from a team that committed the fewest errors of any Firebird team in club history. The Firebirds gave the Red Sox free bases that led to runs and made the comeback extremely difficult.
“We had three outs on the bases and we never want to give outs away,” Orleans assistant coach Brendan Eygabroat said. “You want to keep a game within striking distance and I think if we still have it within those three or four runs we had a great chance and I thought we were going to win it right there.”
One constant staple of the 2019 Orleans Firebirds is that they compete to the final out no matter what. A six-run ninth inning deficit looked daunting, but they ended up sending ten men to the plate and scored five runs to get the winning run in scoring position.
The inning began with outfielder Zach Kokoska (Kansas State) who came in the game after right fielder Zach Britton (Louisville) left the game with an injury and came through in a big way. Kokoska walked twice in the inning and ended up scoring a run and driving in another, like most on the Firebirds they knew the challenge was great. But it wasn’t impossible.
“We struggled early but I really think this ending is going to give us momentum going into tomorrow’s game,” Kokoska said. “We’re going to grind and try our best and find ways to win and we were one run short a few plays early could’ve stopped some runs from scoring and we would have won the game. But that’s baseball.”
Unfortunately, the Red Sox got the final out on a ground ball back to the pitcher to steal game won on the road heading home a victory away from advancing in the postseason.
Y-D delivered a back-breaking early salvo with a three-run outburst all with two outs in the top of the fourth headlined by an opposite field home run off the bat of Andrew Eyester (South Carolina). The Red Sox offense scored more runs than any other Cape League team by a wide margin, and there performance Friday showed what makes them so dangerous.
Orleans starter Jake Eder (Vanderbilt) had been cruising in his outing prior to the Red Sox flexing their muscles. The tall lefty finished by allowing four total runs by allowing four total runs but only three were earned but did strike out nine Y-D hitters along the way.
Right-hander Chase Wallace (Tennessee) performed well in relief of Eder throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out four hitters. After pitching sparingly for the Volunteers during the college season, Wallace has positioned himself well for next season with a great summer on the mound.
“I’ve been able to command all of my pitches for strikes,” Wallace said. “I try to go up there and think that my best beats their best so you just need to have the right mental approach to pound the zone and keep your pitches low because if you miss a spot they’ll make you pay.”
Game two of the short three game set with be held at Red Wilson Field at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The Firebirds will be playing for their season trying to force a do-or-die game three Sunday night at Eldredge.
The Firebirds will send left-hander Isaac Esqueda (USC) to the mound for the second game of the series. Esqueda has been a key part of the Orleans pitching staff by posting a 2.17 ERA in eight appearances with his repertoire of nasty breaking pitches.
Orleans is now in danger of their season ending at the hands of Y-D for the seventh consecutive series since the team’s have met in the Cape League postseason.
During the 2013 postseason the Firebirds lost their first game but still ended up advancing to the Cape League finals. The season is not over yet.