By Mac Friday
(Photo: Braden Reed/Bourne Braves)
On Monday, Braves utility player Mac Horvath arrived halfway through Bourne’s workout at Fenway Park, bleary-eyed and worn out from an early flight from Minnesota to Boston. Horvath participated in the back end of the team’s workout, still wearing his North Carolina gear. His first glimpse of Doran Park came when the team bus arrived back in Bourne, but little did he know that his first game on the diamond itself would be absolutely magical.
In his first two games with the Braves on the road at Falmouth and Y-D, Horvath went 1-for-8 with five strikeouts, but like all players on the Cape, it was simply the adjustment period that he needed to power through. On Thursday night at Doran, he did it in a bigger way than anyone could’ve imagined.
A thrilling comeback and several A’s mistakes handed to the Braves tied the game up at two runs apiece. With the bases loaded and one out, Horvath, who had been late to the ball all night, didn’t waste any time against Texas flamethrower Lebarron Johnson.
Horvath saw a fastball, his eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree. The North Carolina Tarheel absolutely crushed it, sending the ball over the left field fence into the bullpen, and his teammates and fans into raptures, as the Braves walked it off to win 6-2.
“I just saw a fastball and the whole night I felt like I was being too passive at the plate, taking too many pitches I probably should’ve gotten to,” Horvath said. “My mindset was to swing early and if it was in the zone, just go from there.”
Why wait for tomorrow morning when we have the Call of the Game TONIGHT!?
— Bourne Braves (@BourneBraves) July 15, 2022
Horvath’s walk-off grand slam was the first of its kind in 12 years, dating back to July 13, 2010, when the Harwich Mariners beat the Hyannis Harbor Hawks on a slam off the bat of Pratt Maynard.
Horvath had never hit a walk-off home run in his baseball career, either.
“This is a pretty unbelievable feeling,” he reflected. “I’ve never been a part of an inning like this, especially in the bottom of the ninth.”
After the second ninth-inning comeback in less than a week for the Braves, it’s safe to say that even when they’re down, they are never out of a ballgame, even when they have just two hits heading into the final frame.
“We’ve done it before and we just did it again,” Braves manager Scott Landers said. “I have to give credit to (second baseman) Matt Shaw who led off the inning. From there, we did a good job and battled.”
Shaw put up a mighty fight to lead off the ninth from the two-spot. On a 2-2 count, the second baseman fouled off a pitch that hit him in uncharted territory, buckling him. As he stood outside the batter’s box hunched over, catcher Alan Espinal was sent over to see if Shaw wanted to be replaced. The Maryland product said no thank you, and on the next pitch, smashed a dribbler deep into the six-hole and high-tailed it to first, just barely beating the throw for an infield single. Bourne had a pulse.
After first baseman Chris Brito flew out to center, the Anglers opted to remove the electric righty Owen Stevenson, who had allowed all three of the Braves hits after a hitless start by Roman Kimball, who struck out seven through the first four innings. In came lefty Carlos Rey in to face Cape Cod Player of the Week in Week Four, lefty designated hitter Evan Sleight.
Rey failed to locate though, walking Sleight on four pitches. Against lefty right fielder Carson Jones, Rey rifled a ball beyond the glove of his catcher, putting the tying run into scoring position. Tomas Frick was brought in to run for Sleight at second.
Jones was then walked on four pitches, but confusion came about as he trotted to first. The umpires gathered and ruled Rey’s fourth pitch to be a balk, as he shuffled and failed to set properly on the bump. Shaw was brought in for the first run and Frick moved to third. Anglers manager Tom Holliday was irate with the call and was tossed after getting his money’s worth, the second manager in two consecutive Braves games to be ejected. Rey then walked Jones again on a 3-1 count and Johnson was called in to face the right-handed John Peck.
More controversy came in the next at-bat, as the Braves’ strikeout leader Peck narrowly avoided a dropped third strike that bounced back towards the A’s dugout, allowing Frick to score and Peck to reach safely.
Center fielder Carson Roccaforte was intentionally walked to put a force at any base, and Horvath did the rest.
While Horvath will receive the glitz and glamor for the walk-off homer, the unsung hero of Thursday night’s win was undoubtedly the pitching staff.
Right-hander Seth Keener was given the ball for his second start and sixth appearance of the season and despite some early jams, the Wake Forest product navigated the trouble with ease, receiving numerous assists by his first baseman in Brito to close out the first two innings.
In his final two innings of work, Keener found his groove, striking out four of the six punchouts notched on the afternoon. Although he’s mostly been used as a reliever, this season, he felt particularly comfortable on Thursday, despite a nasty ear infection that kept him to just four frames of work.
“I felt like Michael Jordan flu game out there, just summer-ball version,” Keener chuckled. “It was a good appearance; I just wanted to throw strikes, compete and attack. My defense made some great plays behind me.”
Following Keener was Louisville righty Kade Grundy, who only allowed two hits in his three innings of work, one being a solo shot off the bat of left fielder Guy Garibay.
Closer Nigel Belgrave looked to keep the game close in the eighth and ninth, but a leadoff bomb by center fielder Jake Deleo, his second against the Bravos on the season, extended the Chatham lead to two.
“The pitchers were great today,” Landers said. “Seth pitched awesome, got out of a couple of jams early and got better as he went on, but because he’s been sick, we pulled him after four. Grundy made two mistakes and Nigel just one, but that was it. They were great tonight. They didn’t walk guys and held us close until what we could do what had to (in the ninth).”
This is the kind of Braves win that can turn around a season, putting juice in the bats and wind in the sails for the last 15 regular season games.
Next up is the Braves’ final visit to Guv Fuller Field to face the Falmouth Commodores for the second time this week after a 4-3 win on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 6:00 p.m.