JV “Mercies” Tam in Five Innings, 14-4

In the penultimate game of the 2022 season, the Redwood JV Baseball Giants took to Endriss Field and dominated their cross-town rivals the Tamalpais Red-Tailed Hawks, 14-4, in five innings.

With a depleted pitching core (three starters out with illness or injury, and one just returned from Covid), and having lost their last two league games, the Giants’ prospects seemed iffy against a traditionally strong Tam High program. To make things worse, no umpires showed up for the game, forcing both teams to send a coach to the mound each inning to call their respective pitcher’s balls and strikes.

Redwood starting pitcher Max Paul added to the uncertainty in the top of the first, giving up two hits, hitting two batters, flinging a wild pitch, and generally not looking like his usual accurate self.

With two outs, one run in, and runners on second and third, a Paul inside fastball grazed the uniform of Hawks’ second baseman Cooper Kift. Kift started towards first, but was called back to the box by Redwood’s coach-cum-ump.s. As if to clarify the situation, Paul proceeded to snap a curveball directly into Kift’s back, sending him to first after all, and loading the bases.

With the early momentum clearly with the Hawks, and their shortstop Tito Fierstein at the plate, Paul decided to wheel towards second base for a dangerous pickoff attempt of Hawks’ catcher Jack Scalisi. Out of the corner of his eye, however, Paul spotted Hawks’ right fielder James Bonneau leaning a little too far off of third base. Paul pump-faked to second, drawing Bonneau even further off the bag, then turned and fired to Giants’ third baseman Harrison Lapic, who applied the tag on Bonneau, extricating the Giants from the inning with the score just 1-0.

The Giants evened things up in their half of the frame, as speedy center fielder Jack Corvi started things off with a single to right field off of starting Hawks’ pitcher Hugo Barberie. Corvi took a big turn at first, then stole second base at his earliest opportunity, proceeding to third on a Barberie wild pitch.  Shortstop Quinn Miller then drove Corvi in with a sharp grounder to Fierstein.

Giants’ DH Tony Metaxas followed by muscling a ball off of his fists, then watching as it sailed over the head of Hawks’ center fielder Gavan Smeltzer, giving Metaxas an easy double. If Metaxas had barreled up that pitch, it likely would have been the longest ball hit by the JV team at Endriss field this year. But alas, it went for naught, as Metaxas was called out stealing third base. Even though Hawks’ third baseman Ryder Covey clearly missed the tag, and Tam’s coach-cum-ump should have had a good angle on the play from his perch on the mound, he called Metaxas out. Metaxas stood on the base chatting with his third base coach Mike Blum about next steps for quite some time, before jogging back to the dugout in disbelief.

In the top of the second, the Hawks’ Smeltzer reached base on an excellent bunt, then stole second base. Giants’ catcher Ryan Ip got off a good throw, but Smeltzer clearly beat it; nevertheless, The Redwood coach/ump called Smeltzer out to end the inning. At this point, with the score still tied, the crowd began to worry that the game was going to devolve into a series of retaliatory tit-for-tat calls, and might in fact hinge on the lack of umpires.

Fortunately, Redwood began to pull away as the game went on, making those bad calls less and less relevant. 

The third base line played heavily into Redwood’s progress in the bottom of the second. With Barberie relying on a slow curveball, Paul smacked a single directly over the bag to lead things off. First baseman Jordan Kimball followed with his own single in exactly the same spot, sending Paul to second. By the time Giants’ right fielder Wyatt Turkington hit a dribbler just along the same line, the Hawks’ Covey had wised up, and begun playing just off the base, so snatched Turkington’s grounder in foul territory. Unbothered, Turkington raked a line drive into left field, straight through Covey’s normal spot, and sending Paul around third and steaming towards home. 

Hawk left fielder PJ Ceral’s throw home was wildly offline, and Paul came in to put Redwood ahead 2-1, a lead they would never relinquish.  Just for good measure, Corvi sent his own shot down the third base line (just foul), before walking to load the bases. Miller, though, didn’t get the third base memo, flying out to center field to end the threat.

Tam High staged their last serious threat in the top of the third. Ceral led off the inning with a wicked shot to right center which Corvi ran down handily. But after hitting two batters and walking another, and a wild pitch to boot, Paul had loaded the bases. Somehow, he bore down and got Hawks’ catcher Jack Scalisi on a borderline called strike three, bringing Kift to the plate.

With two outs, bases loaded, and tensions high, Kift launched a ball into deep left center, and it looked like big trouble for the Giants. As the myriad Hawk runners rounded the bases, Corvi and left fielder Gavin Soper each raced toward the flight of the ball, Corvi having to adjust his path due to the curvature of the fifty-foot fence which protrudes oddly into center field at Endriss.

As the ball descended, and just when all seemed lost, Corvi stormed within reach. Extending his left arm to the backhand, he plucked the ball out of the air in full stride, saving at least three runs (and possibly four). As Redwood erupted in cheers, the Tam bench was visibly shaken, and the Hawks seemed to go quiet for the rest of the game.

With the air effectively out of Tam’s tires, the Giants broke the game wide open in the bottom of the third.  The left-handed Soper, facing a defensive shift, slapped a single into the open spaciousness offered him in left field. Paul then helped himself with a rocket up the middle, before second baseman Sam Sumski slammed a pitch down the line in left, scoring Soper and waltzing into second base with a double. Kimball then worked a full count, fighting off four foul balls before walking to load the bases, which spelled an exit from the mount for Barberie, the score now 3-1.

Tam brought on first baseman Reed Hanna to pitch. Hanna, a gangly 6’6” freshman, proved to be a flamethrower, but a wild one, walking his first two batters, to make the score 5-1. And when Hanna next managed the ball over the plate, Corvi smacked it to left field for another run. Miller’s subsequent groundout to Kift scored yet another, making it 7-1.

After drilling Metaxas in the back to load the bases again, Hanna went on to walk in his third run of the inning before being yanked in favor of Covey, who swapped his spot with Hanna at third base.

With the score now 8-1, and Paul at the plate, Tam’s coach/ump appeared to be tired of calling balls against his own pitchers, and decided to expand the zone. Paul watched a couple of called “strikes” sail past well outside. Realizing what was going on, Paul responded by stretching his bat a foot beyond the plate to foul off Covey’s next outside pitch, then doing his best to reach the next one, sending a can of corn high into the air behind first base. New Hawks’ first baseman Henry Stoll twisted himself around trying to find the ball, before letting it drop behind him, scoring both Corvi and Metaxas.  Paul crossed first wearing a satisfied smile at the righteous turn of events.

With runners on first and third, Sumski scorched a ball to left, but Ceral was standing right there, and made the putout to close out the inning with the Giants up 10-1.

Moving to the top of the fourth, the Hawks didn’t quit. Stoll led off with a grounder deep in the hole. Miller made a terrific play on the ball, but his throw just missed Stoll at first by a hair. After a walk to Hawks’ DH Eli Solem, the weak-hitting Smeltzer stunned the crowd with a blast into left center out of Soper’s reach, rolling for a standup triple, two runs scored, and Paul’s exit from the game, now up 10-3.

Sumski, switched places with Paul and struck Ceral out looking on a curveball, then got Covey to ground to Miller for out number two, conceding run number 4.  Sumski then walked Berberie before retiring the side on Bonneau’s weak dribbler to Kimball.

The Giants tacked on two runs in the bottom of the fourth, with the highlight being Corvi’s perfectly-executed hit-and-run. With Kimball on third and Turkington on first, Kift ran to cover as Turkington broke for second on the pitch. Cool as a cucumber, Corvi slapped Covey’s offering through the exact spot Kift had vacated, scoring Kimball and sending Turkington to third.  A balk by Covey on a subsequent pickoff attempt scored Turkington, making the score 12-4.

The thrills didn’t stop in the top of the fifth either, as, with a man on, Stoll crushed a ball deep down the left field line. Soper, playing Stoll towards center, raced at least thirty yards across left field and threw his body over the foul line at a dead sprint, snatching the ball out of the air in full flight. The fans rose to their feet in disbelief, as this appeared to be a catch worthy of the all-time highlight reel. But when a small speck of white soon appeared on the grass beside Soper’s prone body, they realized that the force of Soper’s impact on the ground had jostled the ball loose from his glove, resulting in merely a long, exciting foul ball.

With runners on first and third and one out, Stoll broke for second. Ip’s throw to catch Stoll triggered Scalisi in turn to break for home. But Paul, now playing second base, cut off the throw and returned a perfect strike to Ip, who stood firm with the tag for out number two as his counterpart Scalisi attempted to bowl him over.  Solem’s long fly ball to center settled into Corvi’s glove at the base of the fence for what would be the Hawks’ final out of the game.

Needing two runs to build a ten-run lead and therefore put the game away, the Giants got to work in the bottom of the fifth. Soper drilled an absolute rope down the right field line for a standup triple. With the right field fence temporarily removed, the ball continued rolling well out of play, but the lack of umpiring made for a lack of ground rules, so Soper’s triple stood.

Paul followed with his own sizzling shot to first, but Stoll was in position for that one, and made the play for out number one. Sumski had better luck, though, slamming another ball over the left fielder’s head for his second standup double of the day, and scoring Soper.  One run to go.

Kimball fought off a pitch in on his fists, sending a weak grounder to the right side. Covey, Kift, and Stoll all converged on the ball, leaving no one to cover first, where Kimball strolled in like a boss, sending the potential winning run over to third in the form of Sumski.

With the Hawks’ infield in, Lapic poked a soft liner which dropped into shallow right field. Bonneau desperately heaved the ball towards the plate, but Sumski came sliding in just ahead of the throw, triggering the mercy rule, and ending the game at 14-4.

While Corvi and Paul led all hitters with three hits apiece, everyone on the Redwood side seemed hot at the plate this afternoon, with no fewer than six Giants tallying two RBI’s apiece.  Paul raised his team-leading batting average back to .400 (amongst batters with more than two plate appearances, ruling out Quinn Newlin’s otherworldly 1.000), with Corvi close behind at .395.

The Giants, now 14-8 on the year (8-3 MCAL), will close out their memorable season on Friday against these same Hawks on the road in Mill Valley.

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