Center fielder Dan Kerry was overheard during Sunday's warmups questioning his choice of lumber. “Maybe I should be using a 34-inch bat,” Kerry debated with a teammate, instead of his usual, lighter 33-inch model. The long-time cricketer took his musings to the extreme, suggesting he would ask a builder friend for a quality chunk of willow from which to fashion a home-made stick on the lathe. Nevermind that baseball bats are traditionally carved from ash or maple. Nevermind that Kerry has never made a bat before. Nevermind anything. The Falcons coaching staff has a strict policy when it comes to Kerry at the plate: don't get in his way and good things will happen. Kerry is a true athlete and baseball star – a Natural – akin to the indomitable Roy Hobbs in the classic film. If he wants to whittle his own piece of lumber and swing it wrong-way-round while hopping on one foot and spitting sunflower seeds at the umpire, more power to him. Chances are he'll still put one out of the park.
So it was on Sunday, when the league-leading Herts Falcons travelled to Maidenhead for a two-game set with the Windsor Bears. The Falcons were coming off their most lukewarm stretch of the season, enduring a three-week hiatus bookended by split-series with the London Metros and Essex Arrows. While comfortably atop the AAA since Opening Day, the Falcons were hoping to return to their early form and take both of Sunday's games.
A sweep seemed inevitable from the get-go, as the Bears surrendered eight runs in the top of the 1st on five hits, four walks and three errors. A series of wild pitches and passed balls plagued American-import and Windsor starter Tom Minkkinen, who never regained his composure on the mound. Bears pitching combined for seven walks and nine earned runs over the short 5-inning game, which was ended early by the slaughter rule. Nic Goetz picked up his fifth win of the season, pitching a solid start allowing only one earned run on three hits, and striking out three. Lee Manning, Kimiyoshi Saionji and Jason Greenberg had two hits apiece in the victory.
After a short break in the broiling afternoon sun, the teams trotted back out to the field for game two. Taking the mound for the Falcons was sixteen year-old Pete Kikel in his second appearance and first start of the season. After a 1-2-3 first inning, Kikel seemed to have hit his stride, but some sloppy Falcons defense in the 2nd combined with four walks and three wild pitches led to a daunting 4-0 lead for the Bears. Windsor added another three runs in the next two innings and it seemed like the game was spiralling out of control for the Herts first team – where was their trademark errorless defense…?
With two-on and nobody out in the 4th inning, Manager Greenberg headed to the mound for his second visit with Kikel, where he was joined by Bench Coach and 1st baseman Marty Cullen. While the young flame-thrower's control had improved, the momentum was slipping away from the Falcons and it was time to make some changes. The infield was reshuffled and veteran reliever Aspi Dimitrov came off the bench and quickly worked out of the jam.
Dimitrov pitched three innings of long-relief, allowing three hits but surrendering no earned runs. It was just the opportunity the Falcons needed to get back in the game. Inning after inning they chipped away at the Bears' lead, including a solo home run from slugger Dan Kerry in the top of the 5th. In the next inning, Goetz (now at short stop) reached on a walk, stole second base, advanced to third on an error, and came home on a wild pitch. That tied the score at 7-5 heading into the top of the 7th. It was now score-or-go-home for the Falcons.
To lead off the inning Greenberg stroked a hard line drive into centerfield that proved too much for the fielder and glanced off his glove. Greenberg coasted into second base, representing the go-ahead run. Up stepped Kerry, trusty old 33-inch bat in hand. He took the first pitch high for a ball… and then connected with a high fastball for a monster home run to straightaway centerfield. There was no doubt about the 'dinger' – it could very well be the longest ever hit by a Falcon – and as the Herts bench roared with excitement the Bears hung their heads in horror as their early-innings lead was wiped away. It was a new ballgame.
Darrin Ward – recovering from a strained chest muscle – brushed off his injury and took the mound. He quickly retired the bottom of the Bears' line-up to force the game into extra innings. That 1-2-3 inning featured two defensive gems from first baseman Marty Cullen – a diving stop deep behind the bag with a quick flip to Ward for out-number-one, and a speared line drive for the inning's final put out.
Cullen brought his enthusiasm to the plate to lead off the top of the 8th, singling through the hole on the left side. He promptly took second base on a wild pitch and then, in the game's most gutsy move, tested the arm of the left-handed catcher by attempting to steal third base. While the throw beat Cullen to the bag, his hard slide knocked the ball lose and the umpire quickly reversed his decision and spread his arms wide to show the runner was safe. One more wild pitch was all it took as Cullen sprinted home and the Falcons had earned an 8-7 lead.
Despite earning a walk and stolen base in the bottom of the 8th, the Bears were overpowered by Ward's crafty pitching and stranded the tying run on second. It was truly a team victory. The Falcons used their entire bench, fielding thirteen players, two pinch hitters and three pitchers. The sweep brings the AAA leaders to a 10-2 record and pushes them to three games ahead of the 2nd place London Metros (who were swept on Sunday by the Essex Arrows' resurgent pitching staff).
GAME NOTES: Herts committed 9 errors on the day, the most in any 2008 series… Back in 2007 Kerry hit a home run in his first career at bat, but the two home runs on Sunday were his first of the 2008 season… Andy Cornish made his first appearance behind the dish when the sun got to catcher Greenberg in game two… Greenberg moved to left field, his first appearance in any position but catcher since he joined the Falcons in 2006.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Dan Kerry (4-6, 4 R, 4 SB, 2 HR, 4 RBI)
HERALD EXPRESS ARTICLE
Thursday 12 June 2008
(click to view the full-size version)
GAME 1 BOX SCORE
|Herts Falcons at Windsor Bears|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||R||H||E|
|Herts Falcons 15, Windsor Bears 4|
|Herts Falcons||Windsor Bears|
|Jason Greenberg c||4||2||2||2||Maroudas M. 2b||2||1||0||0|
|Dan Kerry cf||1||2||1||1||Sherwin 3b||3||0||0||0|
|Kimiyoshi Saionji 2b||4||1||2||1||Milner ss||2||0||1||0|
|Andy Cornish ss||2||2||1||0||Douglas G. c||3||0||0||0|
|Marty Cullen 1b||3||2||1||0||Minkkinen T. p||1||1||0||0|
|Peter Kikel 3b||3||2||1||1||Selleck lf||2||0||0||0|
|Lee Manning dh||3||2||2||1||Clift 1b||2||0||1||1|
|Greg Bochan rf||1||1||0||1||Dalusong rf||1||1||0||0|
|Aspi Dimitrov lf||2||1||1||0||Kujiria cf||2||1||1||0|
|Nick Goetz p||0||0||0||0|
|TEAM TOTALS||23||15||11||7||TEAM TOTALS||18||4||3||1|
|E: Kimiyoshi Saionji, Marty Cullen, Peter Kikel, Douglas G.(2), Minkkinen T.,
Selleck. DP: Herts Falcons 1. LOB: Windsor Bears 2, Herts Falcons 3. 2B: Kimiyoshi
Saionji, Marty Cullen. SB: Dan Kerry(4), Marty Cullen(3), Andy Cornish(2), Peter
Kikel, Lee Manning, Greg Bochan, Minkkinen T., Maroudas M..
|Nick Goetz W||5.00||3||4||1||2||3|
|Minkkinen T. L||4.67||11||15||9||7||4|
GAME 2 BOX SCORE
|Herts Falcons at Windsor Bears|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||R||H||E|
|Herts Falcons 8, Windsor Bears 7|
|Herts Falcons||Windsor Bears|
|Jason Greenberg c-lf||5||1||1||1||Kujiria cf||4||0||1||1|
|Dan Kerry cf||5||2||3||3||Maroudas M. p||4||1||1||0|
|Kimiyoshi Saionji 2b||4||0||0||0||Clift 1b||4||0||0||0|
|Andy Cornish ss-c||4||1||1||0||Sherwin 3b||4||1||3||1|
|Lee Manning dh||1||0||0||0||Milner C. ss||3||2||0||0|
|(b2) Tim Elkins dh||2||0||0||0||Douglas G. c||3||1||0||0|
|(t7) Darrin Ward dh-p||1||0||1||0||Minkkinen 2b||2||2||1||2|
|Nick Goetz 3b-ss||2||2||0||0||Selleck lf||3||0||1||0|
|Marty Cullen 1b||3||1||1||0||Dalusong rf||4||0||0||0|
|Greg Bochan lf-3b||4||1||1||1|
|Rodney Naghar rf||3||0||0||0|
|Peter Kikel p||0||0||0||0|
|Aspi Dimitrov p||0||0||0||0|
|TEAM TOTALS||34||8||8||5||TEAM TOTALS||31||7||7||4|
|E: Andy Cornish(4), Dan Kerry, Jason Greenberg, Kujiria, Clift, Douglas G.. DP: Herts
Falcons 1. LOB: Herts Falcons 6, Windsor Bears 8. 2B: Andy Cornish. HR: Dan Kerry(2),
Minkkinen. SB: Nick Goetz(2), Marty Cullen(2), Andy Cornish, Greg Bochan,
Minkkinen(2), Maroudas M., Sherwin, Milner C., Selleck.
|Darrin Ward W||2.00||0||0||0||1||2|
|Maroudas M. L||8.00||8||8||5||4||4|