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CLEARWATER, FL. – Tampa Bay Thunder manager Lamar Nuzum knew if starting pitcher Jesus Cruz could "get into a groove,” he'd be difficult to beat. But not even he knew just how dominant his ace would be.
Working at nearly break-neck speed throughout, Cruz limited Naples to just five hits, while the Thunder broke open a close game late to claim the 55-over championship at the 2012 MSBL Grapefruit Classic.
"We were hoping he could pitch this well, but you never know what's going to happen,” Nuzum said of the left-handed Cruz. "We he gets it going, he can be unhittable. He was actually nursing a heel spur, but never complained about it and never asked to come out.”
The victory was Tampa Bay's fourth without a loss and its seventh straight overall at the tournament dating back to last year when it was in position to claim a title before rain called play to a halt.
This time, nothing would stop the Thunder.
Cruz, who played minor league baseball Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants' farm systems, struck out seven, walked only two and was in real danger of allowing a run just once when Naples, trailing 1-0, put runners on first and third with one out in the fourth. But, a 6-4-3 double play ended the potential rally and Cruz made sure there wouldn't be another.
"Their guy pitched a heck of a game, there's no doubt about that,” Naples manager and losing pitcher Rick Moore, said. "It was a 1-0, 2-0 game there for a while, but [Cruz] really shut us down.”
"It feels great to win it, because we thought we were in a great position to do it last year,” Nuzum said. "This was a total team effort.”
Weedo and Cirelli led the way in the championship game, combining to finish 4-for-8 with a triple, double, stolen base, two runs scored and two RBI, but it was Bobby Parks who was named team tournament MVP. Parks earned a pair of victories in pitching back-to-back games – starting one and then earning a win in relief of the second.
Naples, who finished round-robin play 2-1 with the only loss being a 4-3 setback to Tampa Bay, may have given itself a disadvantage in the title game. After defeating Detroit 16-6 in the semifinals behind the pitching of John Showalter, Naples elected to play a consolation game immediately before the championship game because one of the teams schedule to play went home early.
"Sure, it probably hurt us a bit having to play two games in a row and only having nine or 10 guys throughout the tournament,” Moore said, "but we all came here to play and we just figured, this way everyone would get that extra game.
"That's what's most important.”
TAMPA BAY THUNDER 5, NAPLES 0