By Jack Loder
Whatever the Firebirds did on Thursday night following their loss to Falmouth, they should keep doing it. A lineup that has struggled mightily at the plate woke up early, hanging a three spot in the top of the first including two solo home runs to set the tone early in Bourne. Orleans rode that big first inning and some late insurance runs to a much needed 6-4 win over the host Braves.
It was Nate Furman who got the party started in the opening frame, gapping a triple into deep right center on the first pitch he saw. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Luke Keaschall one pitch later, and the Birds weren’t done yet. Kevin Sim then launched his fifth home run of the summer, a towering shot to left. Isaac Humphrey didn’t feel like making the third out himself, ripping a 2-0 pitch just over the right field fence. An offense that just one day earlier couldn’t dip any lower was suddenly rejuvenated.
“I saw a fastball and just jumped it. I really didn’t think it was gone,” Humphrey said. “It was so huge for us to come out fast like that. The way the pitchers have been throwing the ball we knew we had to pick them up.”
The pitchers weren’t the only ones getting picked up on Friday night, as the Firebirds were without skipper Kelly Nicholson. In his place, assistant coach Phillip Cebuhar stepped up as acting manager. He couldn’t have asked for a better welcome.
“These guys have been working so hard as a group and on their individual goals, it was awesome to see things get started like that,” Cebuhar said. “I only found out Kelly wasn’t going to be with us today about 20 minutes before we got on the bus, the whole staff did a great job today.”
A day after Ben Shields put a blip on the near perfect record sheet of Orleans starting pitchers, left hander Kyle Carr got the group back on track in the early going. The San Diego product threw scoreless innings in the first, second and third without allowing a base hit. He worked with an impressive fastball, commanding the zone and staying ahead of Braves hitters for most of his outing.
Carr ran into trouble in the fourth, allowing a flurry of singles along with a walk. He was lifted with a run in and two men on in favor of Cam Jones, who immediately allowed an RBI double. Following a walk, the bases were loaded with two down, Orleans clinging to a one run lead. Jones was able to dig deep and get his team out of the inning. After working a full count, he induced an infield pop up for the second out, and then ended the inning with a swinging strikeout to cap a six pitch at bat.
“I wasn’t satisfied with how my outing ended, but overall I thought I threw the ball pretty well,” Carr said. “I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes, and having that early three run cushion was huge. Great team win.”
The imperfect but gutsy relief appearance from Jones is one that Orleans has lived off of all year. Minimizing damage is a specialty. With both Cooper McKeehan and AJ Blubaugh now gone, the bullpen now has some quality innings to make up for.
As hot as the bats were early in this game, they returned to their recent sedimentary state after the top half of the first. Orleans went quietly from the second inning through the seventh, before coming alive once again in the top half of the eighth. Jacob Stinson was plunked to begin the inning, setting the stage for catcher Connor Burns to lay down a gorgeous bunt up the first base line, spinning to a stop halfway between the plate and the bag directly on the chalk for an unorthodox base hit. Travis Honeyman then walked, setting the stage for Nate Furman. He followed up his first inning triple with a line drive shot to center, falling in front of the charging center fielder and plating two huge insurance runs.
Chris Clark threw the ninth inning, and while he lit up the radar gun up to 96, he was tagged for a pair of runs that tightened the final to 6-4.
Without their manager, the Firebirds didn’t miss a beat. This team has been close to getting hot without quite doing it for the entire summer, this road win might just provide that spark.
Birds head to Chatham Saturday night for a Fourth of July rematch with the Anglers.