- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
After 10 straight losses to nemesis Long Island dating back to last year, including seven this year, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs finally broke through with a thrilling 3-2 victory in 11 innings Saturday during their five-game home series at Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium.
Following a doubleheader split Sunday, the Blue Crabs had a golden opportunity to capture the rubber contest of the long series Monday.
But Long Island still proved to have the Blue Crabs’ number in the end, storming back with the final six runs in the series finale for a 7-4 come-from-behind victory.
The Blue Crabs have dropped all three series to Long Island this season and five straight dating back to last year, including getting swept in the best-of-three Liberty Division Championship Series in the 2013 postseason.
“I don’t know,” Blue Crabs third baseman Jake Opitz said about why Long Island has his team’s number. “I feel like we play them in tough games every series. It’s just baseball. They got some clutch hits when they needed to, and we didn’t some of those nights. It’s just a matter of that.
“A couple of hits away, a couple pitches away [from winning consistently against Long Island]. It’s not anything more than that.”
The Blue Crabs (19-26) continue in last place in the Freedom Division, now eight games behind first-place Lancaster (27-18), which pulled out a 7-6 victory in 12 innings Monday. Sugar Land (22-22) is 4 1/2 games out, just in front of the Blue Crabs in the four-team division.
The Blue Crabs will have to make up ground in the division without the services of the Atlantic League’s top pitcher, as lefty starter Brian Burres was signed Monday by the Colorado Rockies and assigned to their Triple-A affiliate Colorado Springs.
The 33-year-old Burres, a former major league veteran, was boasting a league-leading 1.64 ERA along with a 3-2 tab in his first season with the Blue Crabs. He was named the Atlantic League Pitcher of the Month for May.
Opitz noted there is no major frustration by the club as it relates to coming up short in another series to Long Island just as the team was showing signs of improvement.
“Yeah, they have our number, but it wasn’t frustrating,” he added after hitting in the final three games of the series, including a 3-for-5 display in Sunday’s 3-2 shortcoming in 12 innings to open the twin bill. “It’s just more we need to get a win, whether we’re playing them or anybody else. They got us at home. We’ll move on and go get Sugar Land.”
After an off-day for the entire league Tuesday, the Blue Crabs depart for Sugar Land in the Lone Star State via a scheduled early-morning flight today. They will be involved in their second straight long series, opening a six-gamer at 7:05 p.m. tonight in Sugar Land. The series is slated to run every day through Monday.
“Obviously, it would’ve been good momentum, would’ve been two [wins] in a row going into the off-day and then Sugar Land,” Blue Crabs manager Lance Burkhart said of what could have been concerning Monday’s series finale against Long Island (24-19), second in the Liberty Division and three games behind league-best Somerset (27-16). “They got some big hits late when they needed them and that’s the way it goes.”
All the momentum was going the Blue Crabs’ way following a three-run fifth inning for a 4-1 lead Monday, highlighted by Amadeo Zazueta’s RBI double and Jermaine Mitchell’s two-run homer.
But as good teams do, two-time reigning league champion Long Island quickly responded in the top of the sixth with a pair of runs to get within 4-3, chasing Blue Crabs pitcher Brian Baker from the game after 5 2/3 innings.
That set the stage for Long Island’s four-run seventh, serving as the difference-making frame in the game.
A bases-loaded walk with one out issued to Joash Brodin by Blue Crabs reliever Eric Massingham enabled Long Island to knot the game at 4 in the seventh. Then Massingham uncorked a bases-loaded wild pitch that brought in Cody Puckett with what turned out to be the winning run, giving Long Island a 5-4 edge.
Brendan Harris added an RBI sacrifice fly before Adam Bailey’s single to left field drove in another run to serve as insurance tallies for Long Island. Randy Ruiz tried to score from second base on Bailey’s base knock but was gunned down at the plate by Blue Crabs left fielder Jonny Kaplan to end the Long Island seventh. But the damage was already done.
“We’ve been in a lot of battles with this [Long Island] team, a lot of extra-inning games, a lot of innings played,” Blue Crabs center fielder Dave Sappelt said after his 2-for-3 night with a run scored, capping a series that saw him collect a hit in each of the five games. “All you can do is keep pushing forward. You’ll get your wins if you keep playing like this. We’ll be all right.”
The only game in this most recent matchup that was not close was Friday’s series opener when Long Island captured an 11-6 win by plating the first six runs of the game in the third. It led 10-2 through 4 1/2 innings.
Both twin-bill affairs on Sunday were pitching duels as the Blue Crabs got revenge in the seven-inning nightcap with a 2-0 shutout.
“I thought we played wire to wire to [Long Island],” Sappelt said. “I don’t think they have an edge at any position on us. I think overall, we’re the same exact teams. It’s just the ball hopping one way or the other. If we cut down on making errors or [giving up] walks or getting clutch hits, [then we’ll be fine].”
Burkhart added, “We’ve played them close just about every game we’ve played them. I’m confident in that because we continue to compete with them. It’s very frustrating [to lose tonight]. It would’ve been big to win the series.
“[Long Island] doesn’t give any at-bats away. Their lineup is pretty good, and they just don’t quit.”
Burkhart could not sing the praises enough of his pitching staff during the Sunday’s doubleheader, yielding just three runs over the course of 19 innings.
Long Island’s arms were also stout with four runs allowed in the twin bill.