By Jack Loder
On any other night, this effort by the Firebirds’ bats likely would have won them the ballgame. Their five runs isn’t any grand impressive totals, but clutch hitting, and hitting in clumps, nearly catapulted them all the way back for a comeback victory. Back to reality, Orleans came up short. Falmouth went up 6-2 in the middle innings and hung on for dear life late, pulling out a 6-5 victory over the Birds at Eldredge Park.
“We didn’t do a good enough job playing catch tonight. We threw the ball around a little too much,” Kelly Nicholson said. “That’s what I’ll say about that. A few times in that third inning we didn’t take care of the baseball.”
Despite not taking care of the baseball, Orleans had a number of chances to come away with a win. In the eighth, they left the bases loaded after a run was walked in to bring them within one run. In the ninth, a pair of singles and a productive out set up a runners on second and third with two outs situation for Austin Knight. Knight sold out on the first pitch he saw, smacking a deep fly ball to center field that was easily kept in the yard to secure a nailbiter of a victory for Falmouth.
Even the best fall down sometimes. Bryce Warrecker, one of four Firebird All Stars, has been masterful all summer long. He was that way tonight until the top of the third, when Falmouth exposed signs of mortality in the previously untouchable Cal Poly right hander. Warrecker surrendered four runs in the frame, all earned. Spotty defense doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, as the Birds didn’t help him out much during the fateful inning.
“We were agressive, we brought the infield in early and they hit a ball up the middle and scored a run, a few things didn’t go our way there,” Nicholson said. “You have to treat every run as a valuable commodity in baseball. We didn’t do that tonight and we lost by one run.”
Orleans was able to cut the 4-0 deficit in half the hard way in the bottom of the fourth. The Birds only picked up one hit in the frame, but they were able to do something they’ve struggled dramatically with all year with runners on second and third. They manufactured two runs. Jack Bulger and Garret Guillemette both took advantage of a relaxed infield depth, bouncing out to shortstop but driving in two runs in the process. Cam Jones scored after walking to begin the inning, and Isaac Humphrey was plated following his line drive single to right.
“We were a hit away. We were a hit away a couple times,” Nicholson said. “We just didn’t get it done in the end.”
The Firebirds have something of an identity crisis on their hands as the season turns toward the final stretch. Kevin Sim is gone after injuring his shoulder. Nate Furman is gone after being drafted in the fourth round. It’s been over a week now without superstar relievers AJ Blubaugh and Cooper McKeehan. Perhaps most painful has been the absence of Travis Honeyman, who took a 94 mph fastball off of his hand at Cotuit earlier this week. He dodged a bullet with a clean X-Ray, but has still been out of the lineup since.
These departures, expected or not, have given the Birds a glaring depth issue, especially in the batting order. A number of Orleans hitters are struggling through turbulent at best summers, and it’s hurting the bottom line. Whether it’s a change in approach, a pivot to small ball, or some other unforeseen remedy, things will have to change at the dish for the Birds if they have their sights set on a deep postseason run.