One team needed three outs to celebrate a division title. The other team was hoping those three outs would never come to keep its very slim hopes of getting into the Atlantic League playoffs alive.
The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs trailed the Long Island Ducks 5-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf.
The Blue Crabs were three outs away from being officially eliminated from the playoffs, while the Ducks needed three more outs to be the Liberty Division second-half champions.
With the champagne on ice and the plastic hung up in the visiting team’s clubhouse ready for a Long Island celebration, Southern Maryland had other ideas.
Charlie Valerio led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a double to right field, then Josh McAdams quickly tied it with a two-run home run to left-center to tie the game at 5 after the Blue Crabs had fallen behind 5-0 in the third.
With one out, a pitch from Long Island reliever Myles Smith got past the catcher and Travis Witherspoon took advantage of the new Atlantic League-Major League Baseball partnership rule by “stealing” first base. Witherspoon stole second the old-fashioned way and Kent Blackstone walked.
That brought Joe Benson to the plate and he lined the first pitch he saw from Smith off the Mini Monster in left to score Witherspoon and cap a 6-5 come-from-behind win.
“Honestly, I just wanted to be aggressive,” Benson said. “I didn’t want to get behind and wanted to hit the first fastball I saw and I did.”
The Blue Crabs got starter Daryl Thompson off the hook with the comeback. Thompson, the La Plata High School graduate, allowed five runs on nine hits in six innings with two walks and four strikeouts. Thompson now has a league-leading 155 strikeouts, needing 10 more by season’s end to claim the all-time single season record.
“As a starter, I like to go out and set the tone and I feel like I’ve been doing that pretty good all year and I feel like when I don’t do that and I give up runs within the first two or three innings like I did with five runs I feel like I let the team down early on, but they bounced back,” Thompson said. “That’s one thing they’ve been doing all year, not just for me, but throughout the season, especially the second half.”
Ryan Chaffee came on for Thompson to start the seventh and went 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief with four strikeouts, then Tommy Thorpe retired the only hitter he faced in the ninth and would get the win after Southern Maryland’s comeback in the bottom of the inning.
“That’s why you play nine innings,” Blue Crabs manager Stan Cliburn said. “We’re down 5-0 and things don’t look too good. We had three or four hits, but the guys, like we preach all year, ‘Play nine innings, you never know what could happen.’ We played to the last out, that’s what we preach and that’s what we did today and we come away with a big win.”
It was not only a big win for the Blue Crabs, but the Ducks could not celebrate their title in Waldorf.
“You don’t want anybody celebrating in your clubhouse in your hometown in anything you do,” Cliburn said. “I know they had the Visqueen plastic and all that surrounding the clubhouse over there for their celebration. They had the adult beverages, the champagne and all that ready to go, but they’re not drinking it today because we spoiled their party.”
Southern Maryland (58-76 overall, 32-32 Freedom Division second half through Monday) started a four-game series versus Lancaster on Monday in which starter Dusten Knight threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts to defeat the Barnstormers, 3-0. The 17 strikeouts set an league record for this season and the complete game was the 14th for a Blue Crabs pitcher this season, also setting a league record.
Despite the win, a York 3-2 victory over Long Island on Monday night in Pennsylvania ended all hopes of the Blue Crabs reaching this year’s playoffs.
“We grinded down the stretch. Probably going to end up coming up a little short if York wins one more game, but this team doesn’t give up,” Benson said after Sunday’s win. “We play with a lot of pride, we play hard and I’m proud of everybody.”
Long Island got on the board in the top of the second against Thompson, then tacked on four more runs in the third to go up 5-0, but the Ducks would not score again.
“After I gave up the four runs in the third inning, I told myself after that inning, ‘No matter what, just go six innings and leave them right here and we have a chance to win the game.’ And ended up getting a no-decision and winning the game,” Thompson said.
Southern Maryland was held scoreless against Long Island starter Brian Matusz until a two-out solo homer to left-center in the fifth from Rubi Silva. Blackstone then led off the sixth with a home run of his to trim the deficit to 5-2.
Matusz, the former Baltimore Orioles pitcher, was pulled with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and the Blue Crabs continued to claw back against the Long Island bullpen.
With two on and two outs in the eighth versus Smith, Tony Thomas sent a soft liner that got just beyond second baseman Steve Lombardozzi and fell in for a hit. Blackstone, who walked with one out, came in to score to make it 5-3 and the comeback would be secured an inning later.
Saturday, Long Island scored two runs in the top of the first and they stood up in a 2-1 win.
L.J. Mazzilli’s RBI single put the Ducks on the board, then Blue Crabs starter Kyle Simon uncorked a wild pitch to bring in the second run.
Southern Maryland got to within 2-1 in the eighth as Silva led off the inning with a single and scored from first as Long Island botched a ground ball from Mike Falsetti.
Simon allowed two runs on five hits in eight innings in the loss.
Offense was also tough to come by in Friday’s series opener, a 1-0 Long Island win in 10 innings.
In the 10th, L.J. Mazzilli was placed at second base per the new Atlantic League-Major League Baseball partnership rules and he would quickly score on a Hector Sanchez RBI single versus Southern Maryland reliever Mat Latos to give Long Island the only run needed in the game.
Blue Crabs starter Kevin McGovern threw seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits while striking out six.
“We pitched great all series. … Our bats just went cold the last two nights, but they came around [Sunday],” Cliburn said. “And it’s good to see Long Island leave out of town hanging their heads a little bit.”
Blue Crabs get series win versus New Britain
Southern Maryland wrapped up a three-game set with the Bees in Waldorf on Thursday night, a 6-1 victory in a contest that was stopped for weather in the middle of the eighth.
The Blue Crabs got on the board with a Thomas solo homer to right. Silva homered to start the fifth and begin a four-run inning as Thomas later followed with a sacrifice fly and Valerio drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single.
The teams traded runs in the seventh, then the game was cut short after New Britain’s half of the eighth.
Southern Maryland starter Mitch Lambson (2-0) went 7 2/3 innings and struck out 10. The one run Lambson gave up was unearned.
All-Star Game coming to Waldorf
All eyes will be on Southern Maryland next summer as the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs were picked to host the next Atlantic League All-Star Game.
The contest is scheduled for July 15, 2020 at the Blue Crabs’ home of Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf.
It marks the second time that the franchise will host the game, previously hosting the 2013 event.
“It is truly an honor for the Blue Crabs and the Southern Maryland community to be hosting this event,” Blue Crabs general manager Courtney Knichel said in a team news release Saturday. “The All-Star Game and its festivities will be an extraordinary opportunity to showcase our region and Crustacean Nation.”