(Southmead, Bristol) It was with traces of trepidation that the Herts first-team drove westward to Bristol. The Badgers brought only a .235 winning percentage and were deep in the basement of their AAA bracket.
Nevertheless, they had managed to win three of their last four games including a surprising sweep of the third-place Essex Arrows. It wasn't fear of losing that gave the Falcons pause, so much as doubt as to what kind of Bristol squad they would face.
Game One got underway after some rushed batting practice and just as the midday heat began to set in. Sunday was the UK's hottest day in 2008 reaching a scorching high of 30.9C… and shade and breeze were in short supply at the Southmead Sports Centre. Nevertheless, pitching can win a baseball game in any conditions and the Badgers found themselves simply outmatched on the mound.
Darrin Ward brought seven-innings of one-run baseball, allowing only a sacrifice fly in the first. That one earned run was the sum total of the Badgers offence. Ward showed excellent control allowing only six hits and surrendering zero walks with three strikeouts. It was perhaps his best start of the season considering that, in his last outing, 'the Colonel' suffered his first loss to the Oxford Kings and saw his command and his team collapse just two weeks prior at the International London Tournament.
Strong batting from the Falcons brought them a solid 6-1 victory. Andy Cornish, Aspi Dimitrov and Jason Greenberg all went 2-4 and second baseman Kimiyoshi Saionji was 1-3 with 2 RBI. It was an offensive return-to-form for Herts, who continue to capitalise on errors-in-the-field by their opponents.
Game Two was Club President Aspi Dimitrov's second start of the season. While Herts quickly got back on the board with one run on five singles in the first inning, the Badgers immediately responded after Dimitrov walked the first two batters. Walks were the Falcons' greatest nemeses on Sunday afternoon. Dimitrov allowed nine free passes to Badger base runners, four of whom ultimately crossed home plate. However, he quickly regained control and held Bristol to four runs over five innings.
Dimitrov was given some run support to work with in the 4th inning when – with two outs and the bases loaded – catcher Greenberg doubled to deep leftfield clearing the diamond and tying the game at 5-5. Saionji added the go-ahead run, driving Greenberg in with a single to right.
With a one-run lead to protect, the Falcons manager brought Game One-winner Ward back out to the mound to pitch the 6th and 7th. An error, a wild pitch, a walk and a hit allowed a Badger to score and the game was re-tied at six apiece. And so the story went as the teams with the AAA's best and worst records (discounting disbanded Milton Keynes) headed into extra-innings in the sweltering afternoon heat.
To comply with BBF pitching rules, Dimitrov (who moved to centerfield when Ward came in to relieve) was brought back out to the mound to carry on his epic struggle through the 8th, 9th and 10th innings. It was in the tenth that the Falcons broke things open. The Badgers sent a hard-throwing righty to the mound who, despite his 80+MPH heat, had difficulty keeping the ball out of the dirt. Saionji struck out, but reached base safely when the catcher failed to keep control of the pitch and the ball ping-ponged around the backstop. Two walks and three wild pitches later both Ward and Carlos Casal (called up from the AA Hawks to fill a critical whole at third base) slid across home plate and the Falcons took a two run lead.
Dimitrov trotted out to the mound for three more exciting outs. After striking out the leadoff batter he surrendered a base on balls. That runner stole second. Dimitrov struck out another batter who fanned helplessly at the crafty righty's hard-breaking curve. Then, with two outs left-fielder Greg Bochan made an amazing diving attempt at a line drive, only to miss the ball by inches. The runner on second scored easily. But this game was destined to end in 10, and the final batter (Bristol Manager Seth Cooper) stranded the tying run on second base by tapping out weakly to Dimitrov who fielded the ball cleanly and ended the game without further damage.
Casal went 2-4 in Game Two. Sainoji continued his torrid season batting 3-5 with 1 RBI and Greenberg was 2-5 with 3 RBI. Dimitrov secured his second win of the season and leads the Falcons with a 2.954 ERA. Bochan 'the Motion' was erroneously charged with an error on his diving attempt and an appeal has been made to the official statistician to correct this unfortunate mistake. In an ironic twist of fate, Bochan is also the Club's official statistician. The appeal is pending review.
An exciting defensive exchange came in the bottom of the 1st. With runners on first and second, Casal completed a tailor-made double play fielding a grounder, touching his base for the force, and throwing hard to Marty Cullen at first. Cullen then fired the ball back to third to catch the remaining baserunner attempting to advance on the play. While the Herts players will swear he was tagged out on the slide… the Bristol umpires called the runner safe and prevented a would-be Falcons triple play.
With the 7-6 win the Falcons improve to a record of 17-3 overall. They are 6-for-7 in one run games this season, continually managing to pull a win out of the proverbial hat. Still firmly atop the AAA, the Falcons have only six remaining games in the 2008 regular season.
Direct rivals the London Metroes (14-6) swept Oxford on Sunday, and stand at three games back of Herts with six to play. Since the Falcons took three of four games in their summer showdowns with the talented London squad, the magic number to clinch a playoff berth stands at just 3… requiring only .500 baseball from here to the finish line. The Oxford Kings are now tied with the Southampton Mustangs for first place in the alternate bracket and are likely opponents should the Falcons reach the Final 4. Herts will host Southampton in Grovehill on August 17.
|Herts Falcons at Bristol Badgers|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||R||H||E|
|Herts Falcons 6, Bristol Badgers 1|
|Herts Falcons||Bristol Badgers|
|Andy Cornish ss||4||2||2||0||Luke Allen lf||3||1||2||0|
|Jason Greenberg c||4||1||2||0||Fabien Pereira 2b||3||0||0||0|
|Kimiyoshi Saionji 2b||3||0||1||2||Brad Freeman cf||3||0||0||1|
|Marty Cullen 1b||3||1||1||0||Jose Bobadilla ss||3||0||0||0|
|Darrin Ward p||3||0||0||1||Petr Sampson 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Greg Bochan rf||3||1||1||0||Guy Davies rf||3||0||1||0|
|Carlos Casal 3b||3||0||0||0||Ren Schouten 3b||3||0||1||0|
|Aspi Dimitrov cf||4||0||2||1||Ross Densley c||2||0||1||0|
|Rodney Naghar lf||2||1||0||0||John Lansdown p||2||0||1||0|
|TEAM TOTALS||29||6||9||4||TEAM TOTALS||25||1||6||1|
|E: Fabien Pereira(3). DP: Herts Falcons 1. LOB: Bristol Badgers 3, Herts Falcons 8.
SB: Kimiyoshi Saionji, Marty Cullen, Greg Bochan, Rodney Naghar, Luke Allen, Ross
Densley, Ren Schouten. CS: Andy Cornish.
|Darrin Ward W||7.00||6||1||1||0||3|
|John Lansdown L||7.00||9||6||3||7||2|
|Herts Falcons at Bristol Badgers|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10||R||H||E|
|Herts Falcons 7, Bristol Badgers 6|
|Herts Falcons||Bristol Badgers|
|Andy Cornish cf||4||1||1||0||Player 1 p||4||1||2||1|
|Jason Greenberg c||5||2||2||3||Player 2 c||4||2||0||0|
|Kimiyoshi Saionji 2b||5||1||3||1||Player 3 1b||3||1||2||0|
|Marty Cullen 1b||5||0||0||0||Player 4 2b||5||0||2||2|
|Darrin Ward dh-p-rf||4||1||1||1||Player 5 3b||5||0||0||0|
|Greg Bochan lf-rf||5||0||1||0||Player 6 ss||4||1||0||0|
|Carlos Casal 3b||4||1||2||0||Player 7 lf||3||1||0||0|
|Lee Manning ss||5||1||1||0||Player 8 cf||4||0||0||0|
|Rodney Naghar rf||3||0||0||0||Player 9 rf||4||0||0||0|
|(b6) Aspi Dimitrov p-lf||1||0||0||0|
|TEAM TOTALS||41||7||11||5||TEAM TOTALS||36||6||6||3|
|E: Jason Greenberg(2), Greg Bochan, Carlos Casal, Lee Manning. DP: Herts Falcons 1.
LOB: Herts Falcons 7, Bristol Badgers 9. 2B: Jason Greenberg. SB: Carlos Casal(2),
Lee Manning, Kimiyoshi Saionji, Player 1(2), Player 3(2), Player 7(2), Player 4,
Player 6, Player 8. CS: Player 3.
|Aspi Dimitrov W||8.33||4||6||2||9||6|
|Player 1 L||10.00||11||7||6||3||7|