- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs refuse to lose.
With no margin of error for the second straight night in the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series, the Blue Crabs staved off postseason elimination again Saturday with a second straight comeback victory at their favorite place on the road.
In similar fashion to how they rallied to win Game 3, the Blue Crabs continued their better-late-than-never offensive surge with clutch hitting in the seventh and eighth innings.
After Jeremy Owens’ two-out infield single got the Blue Crabs to within a run during the seventh, teammate Jesse Gutierrez continued his big-bat assault in the latter innings from the night before with the game-deciding, two-run homer in the eighth for a 4-3 thrilling victory over the Long Island Ducks.
The Blue Crabs’ seventh straight win in Long Island, stretching back to the regular season, enabled them to tie the series at the two and force a winner-take-all Game 5 tonight at 5:05 p.m. to advance to the Atlantic League Championship Series.
Awaiting the all-deciding Game 5 winner in the best-of-five league championship series is Lancaster and former Blue Crabs manager Butch Hobson, which swept the Freedom Division Championship Series Saturday with a 12-8 win at York, eliminating the two-time reigning league champion.
“Absolutely, we do feel like we have really good momentum,” Owens said after his 2-for-5 Game 4 showing that included a leadoff homer to start the contest. “The guys are really excited. This is why you play the game.”
Just 48 hours before, the Blue Crabs appeared all but done in the road-sweet-road series after Long Island won for the second straight night in Southern Maryland’s Regency Furniture Stadium behind another stellar outing from a starting pitcher.
The quality starting pitching has continued for Long Island upon returning home, but the wins have not as the Ducks bullpen has not been able to protect leads.
In Game 3, the Blue Crabs plated six unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth, capped with a Gutierrez two-run double that loomed large in a 7-5 victory after trailing 2-1 through six frames in that contest.
Gutierrez’s two-run shot in Game 4 came against Long Island closer Leo Rosales, who saved the first two contests in the series.
“I would like to think we have the momentum,” Blue Crabs manager Pat Osborn said going into Game 5. “[Saturday] was a great win, to be down like that in the eighth inning against their closer and come out a winner. That’s a great win.
“It’s a one-game playoff. These guys have been in this situation before.”
Game 4s in the divisional series have been an Achilles’ heel for the Blue Crabs the last two years, bringing each of those postseasons to an end for them. Long Island handed the Blue Crabs a season-ending Game 4 loss a year ago.
A third straight postseason of Game 4 frustration would have continued for the Blue Crabs if not for the relief pitching heroics of Dan Reichert, who tossed an impressive 6 1/3 innings with just one earned run allowed on three hits with three strikeouts and no walks. He pitched into the ninth after coming in to start the third.
Reichert, the 2010 Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year, got injured early in the second half of the regular season on July 18 and when he returned on Sept. 5, he lacked his usual mound mastery. In fact, his final four starts before the postseason were so uncharacteristically ineffective that Reichert forced Osborn to put him in the bullpen and out of the playoff rotation.
After it was apparent that Blue Crabs starter Nick Green was laboring through the opening two innings of Game 4 with two runs allowed on a pair of hits and four walks, the Blue Crabs manager wasted no time in turning to Reichert.
“Dan was dominant,” Osborn raved of his starter turned reliever for the playoffs. “His command was spot-on, and his velocity was better than it’s been all year. Without that performance, there is no Game 5.
“Nick just didn’t have command of his fastball. He had four walks and was [two balls no strikes] to almost every hitter. In a game like that, we just couldn’t afford to get behind.”
Owens echoed of the sinker-baller Reichert, “What Dan did for us, I thought was just phenomenal. He was coming into a role he’s not familiar with and he did a great job of getting ground ball after ground. That’s the type of guy he is.
“Even though Gutierrez came up big with that home run, I think Reichert won us that game tonight.”
Taking the mound in tonight’s huge Game 5 for the Blue Crabs is Southern Maryland native Daryl Thompson. The right-hander, a 2003 La Plata graduate and Hughesville resident, pitched the Blue Crabs into the playoffs with a dominant outing Sept. 21 to beat Lancaster to kick off the final weekend of the regular season.
Now, Thompson has a chance to pitch the Blue Crabs into the league championship series. He was a 2-2 with a 2.93 earned run average in 11 games, seven of them starts, in the regular season.
Thompson has been particularly overpowering in his last six appearances with just four earned runs allowed in 28 innings. This will be his first postseason appearance.
“I have the utmost confidence in Daryl Thompson,” the Blue Crabs skipper said. “If there’s a better pitcher in the league right now, I’d like to see him.”
“He has been throwing the ball well,” Owens added of Thompson. “He’s got a good fastball with a big curveball to back it up.”
Liberty Division Championship Series
Game 4, Saturday
Blue Crabs 4, Long Island 3
Blue Crabs 100 000 120 4 9 0
Long Island 110 001 000 3 5 0
WP Reichert (1-0), LP Rosales (0-1), S Mobley (2)
Extra-base hits: HR Owens (BC, 1), Gutierrez (BC, 2), Sing (LI, 2)