The Rockland Boulders are wrapping up a successful 2017 regular season home record of 34-19 at Palisades Credit Union Park. Taking two out of three against the first-place Quebec Capitales and the home-field advantage in the first round of the Can-Am League Playoffs. The Boulders look to build upon that momentum on a seven-game road trip with the first three games at the New Jersey Jackals. So far this year the Boulders led the series 9 to 8.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate in game one. A rain-out forced both teams’ to play a doubleheader. In game one of the series, the team welcomed back another familiar face to the lineup, Jon Smith. Smith has been out since July 11th due to a violent collision with teammate Mike Fransoso. Smith sustained multiple facial fractures and a concussion in the collision. Teammates & and fans at Yogi Berra Stadium gave Smith a standing ovation in his first at bat in the third inning.
Smith did not disappoint, legging out an infield single on a hard come backer that hit New Jersey starter Isaac Pavlik in the pitching hand forcing him to depart the game. Meanwhile, Rockland starter David Fischer breezed through the first couple of innings striking out five hitters. However, in the third Fischer ran into trouble yielding RBI singles to Art Charles and Brian Burgamy. Also, uncorking a wild pitch leading to another run.
With Fischer exiting after the fourth inning, Liarvis Breto took over the pitching duties where he ran into trouble. The control issues resulted in walking a couple of batters including a free pass to Daniel Rockett. New Jersey tacked on an additional run by Richard De La Hoz to put the game out of reach. Tempers flared as home plate umpire Maolo Alejandro ejected Joe Maloney from the contest. Unable to solve the Jackals bullpen, Rockland managed to break up the shutout bid in the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs. Cody Regis swung at a third strike but the ball skipped by De La Hoz allowing Smith to score.
In the nightcap, the Jackals jumped all over starter Bo Budkevics in the first inning scoring four times off Budkevics. The Boulders responded in the third with a clutch two-out hitting off the bat of Jared McDonald, cranking a two-run bases loaded single into right field.
Budkevics settled down after the rough start retiring seven in a row. He then ran into problems in the fourth loading up the bases with none out. Manager Jamie Keefe made the call to the bullpen signaling for Thomas Lawrence. Facing Art Charles, Lawrence surrendered a two-run single. Brian Burgamy followed lacing a RBI single to left center extending the margin to 7-3.
Capitalizing on the wildness of New Jersey starter Andres Caceres in the fifth, Rockland loaded up the bases with two outs. Jackals manager Matt Padgett called upon Jose Jose to face Alex Herceg that made no difference issuing a free pass forcing in a run. Jose continued to have difficulty locating the strike zone walking Mike Fransoso as McDonald trotted across home plate making 7-5.
On the hill for the fifth and sixth innings, Boulders reliever CJ Riefenhouser escaped jams striking out Art Charles. With runners at first & second in the sixth, fanning Adam Martin and third baseman Cody Regis coming up with a spectacular backhanded defensive play on a ground ball hit by Ryan Retz.
In the seventh, Rockland faced Nate Gercken who got off to a shaky start walking the first two hitters. After both runners advanced on a ground ball by Herceg, Fransoso reached on an error to load up the bases. Gercken’s wildness extended to Dylan Tice with another walk forcing in a run.
Ejected in the first game of the doubleheader, Maloney delivered the biggest hit of the game. Maloney belted a two-run single into left field, increasing his league-leading RBI total to 95 on the season. In his fourth relief appearance since returning from Mexico, Mayckol Guaipe threw nothing but heat whiffing the side in the seventh for his 12th save of the year.
“Don’t what really to say, a tale of two games obviously, ” said Jamie Keefe. “A big team pick-up with Jon [Smith] back. At the end of the day, Fischer was dominant and walks got to him. After that we couldn’t put anything together”.
“We gave up four in the second game and were able to come back and do what we do. Can’t ask for anymore than that. To persevere in a game like that with Jared [McDonald] stepping up and knocking them in. It gave us a chance with the bases loaded and two outs. [He’s] done that four or five times in last couple of weeks. It has been huge for us.”
“Joe [Maloney] didn’t lose his cool on that at bat. He gathered himself with two good swings on foul balls and was able to drive that in. We just have to keep on doing the small things. Regis defensively looked absolutely incredible tonight, CJ [Riefenhouser] was working out of jams twice. Mayckol [Guaipe] comes in and looks like the way he first came in”.
In the rubber game of the series, Boulders starter Richard Salazar and Jackals starter Fernando Cruz were locked in a pitcher’s duel for the majority of the game. Both pitcher’s combined for 14 strikeouts on the night and kept pitch counts down.
Fransoso put Rockland ahead in the second smoking a triple past right fielder Joe Dunigan. Daniel Arribas went station to station from first base. Dunigan atoned for his mistake in the second clubbing a RBI double into the right center gap.
Leading off the sixth, New Jersey first baseman Art Charles slugged a monstrous shot deep over the right field wall. Playing in his second game since being activated off the disabled list, Smith produced a clutch two-out single with runners on first and second in the seventh plating Mike Montville.
Salazar departed after six solid innings on the mound, throwing 93 pitches and yielding two runs on seven hits and walking none. Cruz also did not factor in the decision exiting after seven innings and 103 pitches surrendering two runs on five hits while walking four.
In the eighth inning, with Velasquez on the hill, New Jersey had runners at first and second with one out when Brian Burgamy hit a grounder to Regis. Regis tossed the ball to Dylan Tice. Tice, on the relay, threw the ball to first base and was skipped by Daniel Arribas allowing Johnny Bladel to score the go-ahead run.
The Boulders had one last opportunity to tie the game up in the ninth off Kyle Hansen. With runners at first and second with two outs, Hansen managed to strike out Fransoso ending the game.
“A fantastic game. We were a quarter-inch from turning that double play. It stinks to lose that way,” Keefe said. “All the pitchers’ pitched their butts off when they needed to. At the end of the day, they got one more than we did. In the last couple of games Rich [Salazar] has been fantastic. He just made one bad pitch today. Smith has been awesome squaring it up and right on the ball. We had first and second and an opportunity to take the lead or tie it up.”
“At the end of the day, we want to be where we want to be. Fighting for first and not to get into the playoffs but playing really good baseball. We were grinding it out and fought to get the home field advantage in the playoffs.”
Rockland closes out the 2017 regular season with a four-game series at Ottawa this weekend. Currently the Quebec Capitales hold a one-game lead in the Can-Am League standings. The Boulders have dominated the season series swiping 14 out of the 17 games.
“We have to concentrate going up there and take three out of four,” Keefe said. “What happens at the end of the day, we had a damn good year.”