- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Benjamin leads Liberty with two hits as Freedom rallies in ninth for win
By DALLAS COGLEStaff writer
For the four Southern Maryland Blue Crabs playing in Wednesday’s Atlantic League All-Star Game, they just can’t seem to catch a break.
After the Blue Crabs petered out down the stretch of the season’s first half to a last-place 30-40 mark with four straight losses and 19 setbacks in the final 26 games, their All-Star quartet of leftfielder Casey Benjamin, starting pitcher Nick Green, catcher Christian Lopez and reliever Charlie Manning were on the cusp of finally enjoying a satisfying victory in the league’s 15th annual midsummer classic.
Just three outs away from a one-run win in the top of the ninth inning, the Blue Crabs’ Liberty Division team saw its thin edge get toppled by an offensive outburst from the Freedom Division.
Freedom exploded for six runs in the final frame — scoring four times with its first seven batters reaching base before Liberty recorded an out in the inning — to break open a tight affair in a 9-5 win over Liberty.
It’s the second straight year Freedom came away with bragging rights in the All-Star game after Liberty won the previously two.
Camden setup man Zach Hammes was tagged with the loss for Liberty as he was unable to close out the victory, handed a 4-3 lead entering the ninth, in his own stadium of Campbell’s Field in New Jersey before a reported standing-room attendance of 7,619 fans who were comprised mostly of the host Riversharks faithful.
Hammes was ineffective during his lone inning of work in the ninth, allowing six earned runs on five hits with two walks and a strikeout.
“You’re always competitive and you want to win but all in all, it was a good experience. I have no regrets,” Benjamin said after he was one of just three players on the Liberty side and seven All-Stars altogether who were in the game all nine innings. “I enjoyed being with the other guys on our team and having a good time. It’s always fun to go out there and play with some of the guys in the league you play against.”
Benjamin was one of three All-Stars with a game-best two hits, singling in the first and eighth as part of a 2-for-4 night.
Lopez shakes off Ray Fosse role in collision
It was Lopez who was involved in the most eye-popping play of the All-Star affair.
Coming on in the sixth to take over behind the plate, the Blue Crabs catcher was steamrolled by the bigger Jesse Hoorelbeke as the Freedom designated hitter tied the game in the ninth at 4 on an RBI single from Emerson Frostad (Lancaster).
Lopez, listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, is an inch shorter and 70 pounds lighter than Hoorelbeke’s reported size.
In Pete Rose fashion from the 1970 Major League Baseball All-Star Game when he barreled over Ray Fosse in what’s become one of the most memorable and infamous plays in history, Hoorelbeke collided with Lopez with an impact not for the faint of heart.
The slow Hoorelbeke, dealing with an ailing back, was trucking home from second and took out Lopez on a throw that beat him but was a bit off-target and squirted away from the Blue Crabs catcher.
As if the Blue Crabs need any more injury concerns, trainers on both sides quickly hurried onto the field. But Lopez had gotten to his feet by the time he received the medical attention and indicated he was fine, as it was nothing more than a scary collision. He and a concerned Hoorelbeke shared a hug to suggest that no intent to injure was meant on the play.
“Yeah, the collision shook me up for a few seconds,” Lopez said. “And it had to come from arguably one of the biggest dudes in the league. But yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ve taken worse and I’m sure I’ll take many more shots.”
He added in his signature upbeat tone, “[It’s] one of the beauties of being a catcher.”
Lopez went 0 for 2 with the bat in the game.
Blue Crabs pitchers Green and Manning each threw one inning of shutout ball. Green atoned for giving up the first run in last year’s All-Star Game that resulted in him being tagged with the loss in a 7-0 Freedom win. He came on to pitch the third and allowed a one-out single but later stranded the baserunner at second with two straight flyball outs.
Protecting a 4-3 lead when he came on for the sixth, Manning had a much more adventurous outing. He struck out the side but issued a leadoff double and a two-out walk in the process, then uncorked a wild pitch with two down to put runners on second and third.
Manning escaped the jam by fanning Frostad, having the opportunity to pitch to his usual catcher in Lopez.
“It was great. No matter what level you’re at, being an All-Star feels good,” Lopez said. “You’re among the best players in the league. You always want to win, but it’s the All-Star Game. In my opinion, just being there is a win.”
Benjamin’s first-inning single played a role in Liberty’s four-run frame, grabbing a 4-1 lead, as he eventually scored an unearned tally by capitalizing on a Freedom error.
Liberty did not score again until the ninth on a two-out double during a rally that fell short.
“I knew beforehand I was going to play all nine when the lineup was posted in the clubhouse,” said Benjamin, in an All-Star game for the third time in his professional career, last getting there with the Blue Crabs in 2010 when he cranked a homer in a 7-1 Liberty win. “It just worked out [for me to play the whole game] with the guys we had on the bench.”
Appropriately, Freedom right fielder Fehlandt Lentini of Lancaster captured the Stephen R. Shilling Award as the game’s Most Valuable Player after a 2-for-3 performance with a run scored.
Lentini singled in the ninth after Jesse Hoorelbeke led off with a base hit to set the stage for Freedom’s rally.
The four Blue Crabs involved with the last-inning All-Star loss have already experienced such misfortune before this season. The Blue Crabs gave away a handful of would-be wins late in games during the first month of the season with an inability to properly close.
“The Crabs would’ve gotten that victory,” the positive Lopez said about the All-Star loss, displaying full confidence in his Southern Maryland team.
Freedom 9, Liberty 5
Freedom 100 200 006 9 12 2
Liberty 400 000 001 5 10 0
WP Thomas (Y), LP Hammes (C)
Extra-base hits: 2B Bynum (S), Castro (SL), Binick (LI), Redman (B); HR Nettles (S), Navarrete (LI)
How the four Blue Crabs fared
Casey Benjamin, LF: 2-4 (played all nine innings)
Christian Lopez, C: 0-2 (played last four innings)
Nick Green, P: 1.0 IP, 1H
Charlie Manning, P: 1.0 IP, 1H, 3K, 1BB