The Herts Raptors came roaring out of the blocks on their visit to the Guildford Gold Cats on Sunday (July 30th). Three hits, three walks and a clutch of stolen bases helped them score five before their hosts even picked up a bat, writes Rob Jones.
There was a lot at stake on this mostly sunny but blustery day, with Herts looking to get their record back to .500 on the season. Bouncing back from their recent defeat at Cambridge would give them a chance of a playoff place — but only a victory would do.
The runs driven in by Paul Barton and Arnie Longboy offered a good start.
When he took the game ball to pitch the bottom of the first, Paul Auchterlounie built on that quickly. The Guildford Gold Cats came out swinging aggressively, and Auchterlounie’s ability to both throw strikes and change speeds made swift work of the lineup. They did not score.
Herts scored three more in the top of the second. Then a double play from shortstop Rob Jones helped choke off the Guildford offense as it tried to reply — catching a pop-up in the hole then throwing to John Kjorstad at first to nab a runner who had strayed way too far off base.
Paul Barton stole home in the fourth inning, alertly — even cheekily — coming across to score as both the pitcher and the catcher were looking elsewhere.
And in the bottom of the frame it was the other Paul, Auchterlounie, doing the business. He fielded two comebackers for ground-outs, then struck out the third batter.
The Raptors led 11-5 at this point. Although the game was balanced, Herts felt in control. A costly throwing error by Guildford on an infield dribbler allowed two runs to score, and the lead stretched. Herts minds were turning towards a mercy rule victory.
But the youthful Guildford side did not give up. In fact, they brought on their third bright young pitcher of the day — this one throwing high heat, and offspeed pitches including a knuckleball.
And their hitters finally chased Auchterlounie, who gave way to Barton. The box score now shows that the Gold Cats won the final three innings of the game — but the question at the time was could they come back, or could Herts hold on?
Raptors tacked on one more in the seventh, and the eighth. Guildford kept drawing closer.
Joseph Osborne-Brade reached base with what we will call a swinging bunt in the ninth, then Arnie Longboy reached on a hit by pitch. Then two strikeouts ended any hope of padding the lead, and Raptors led 19-14 going into the bottom of the ninth.
Five runs is far from impossible in Single-A baseball. But on this day only one run would score. Good pitching from Paul Barton did the trick, and some tightened up fielding.
Guildford Gold Cats had shown their tremendous talent and potential, and had clubbed big hits to back up their pitching. But the Herts smarts had been enough to get the crucial win.