By Mac Friday
(Photo: Braden Reed/Bourne Braves)
Up 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Scott Landers trundled out to the mound at Eldredge Park to grab the ball from reliever Cameron Bye. The Witchita State righty allowed just two baserunners through his first two frames of relief, but strikeouts and help from his defense limited the Orleans Firebirds from doing any damage.
Bye came under fire early in his third frame of relief. First baseman Cam Jones reached on a leadoff single. Isaac Humphrey stacked a second single on Bye, before a passed ball got by catcher Alan Espinal to put both runners in scoring position with no outs. He got a groundout but allowed a run to cross to limit the deficit to two. Third baseman Drew Metzdorf poked a ball down the first base line to drop into fair territory scoring both.
In came righty Matt Duffy. Once a starter at Canisius, the Braves have been using Duffy as a reliever and testing his abilities in a variety of situations. Tonight was his first chance to close a game, and he seized the opportunity, retiring five of the next six hitters he faced en route to a 4-3 Braves win, taking the season series against the Firebirds on Tuesday night at Eldredge Park.
“The game is on the line, pressure is all on you, I liked it,” Duffy said. “You have the coaches’ faith in what you are doing and so you just have to go out there and do what you can do, but I mean, all eyes are on you and I enjoy that.”
“He starts at Canisius, so I think we’ve been trying to figure out what exactly we are going to do with him,” Braves pitching coach Brad Cook said. “We may need him to start, may need him in the middle and today I think we figured out what he looks like on the back end.”
Duffy tossed an inning and two-thirds without allowing a hit, grabbing a trio of strikeouts with just one baserunner which he hit on a full count.
“When you start you progressively amp up before you get out there,” Duffy said. “When you are out in the bullpen, your adrenaline just goes way up, your heart rate goes up. You have to maintain that and then hone that into getting ready for the game. It’s a different experience but I like it, it’s fast-paced.”
On Tuesday, the Braves got off to a fast start of their own, as all four of the Bourne runs came as the leadoff hitters of each of their respective innings. New acquisition Nelson Taylor, on just his second day with the team, manufactured a nine-pitch at-bat for a leadoff home run to right-center field in his first ever plate appearance in a Bourne uniform.
“I just wanted to start the game off with a good at-bat for my team,” Taylor reflected. “I thought I was seeing the ball well for the most part… Adjusting to wood (bats) wasn’t that big of a change. Being able to learn quickly is a part of my game.”
The Braves scored again in the third, as shortstop Matt Shaw led off the frame with a single through the left side of the infield. Shaw then stole second as left fielder Evan Sleight stepped in, before advancing to third on a wild pitch. Sleight came through for his 13th RBI of the season with a single to right field.
Designated hitter Chris Brito led off the seventh with a single and got to second on an infield single by first baseman Josh Moylan. After a strikeout, catcher Alan Espinal stepped in and rattled off a worm burner to the left side of the infield, which bounced off the glove of Metzdorf at third, allowing Brito to come all the way around to score.
In the eighth, second baseman Mac Horvath reached on an error by Metzdorf. The UNC Tarheel moved around to third on a Shaw single and then scored on a scorching ground-rule double to second by Brito.
For the second straight game, the Braves logged more than 10 hits.
Righty Kade Grundy started on the bump for Bourne for the first time in nearly a month after reverting to the bullpen, but handled the transition well, holding Orleans to just one run through five innings of work with four strikeouts and no walks.
“Tonight was the longest outing I’ve had since I’ve been here and I felt good throughout the entire thing,” Grundy said. “I threw a lot of strikes and had no walks, which I was really happy with. I got out with only one run on five singles, so that was good.”
“We managed to limit the damage early. Bye got into a little bit of trouble but kept it close enough and Duffy came in and worked some good counts.”
The Braves are back in action at Doran Park against the Harwich Mariners at 6:00 p.m. with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot.