2016 35+ National

East Coast Cardinals 3, Raleigh Red Sox 2

‘Huston Ignites Offense in Fateful Seventh’

By Chris Errington, Special to MSBL National

November 12, 2016, Bright House Field, Clearwater, FL – To a man, members of the East Coast Cardinals play for one reason and it has nothing to do with championships or rings.

It has everything to do with David Hash. The veteran manager completed a rare feat by capturing a pair of Fall Classic titles – one each week – as his Cardinals scored two seventh-inning runs to upend the Raleigh Red Sox, 3-2. When it was over, even Chris Torres, whose bad-hop grounder past third base plated Cory Huston with the eventual winning run, kept his contribution in perspective. “We all know Dave loves baseball,” Torres said. “We all know how important it is to him. Any win is big for him and his family.”

Torres was referring to the tragic 2015 death of Hash’s 28-year-old son Mitchell, a US Marine and University of Virginia graduate. “My brother [starting catcher Jason] and I lost our father, so we know how difficult it can be,” Torres said. “When I got up in the seventh, I just wanted to win one for Hash.” Torres’ single, his second of the game, proved the difference thanks in no small part to Jeff Leviere. The lefthander entered to start the seventh inning trailing 2-1 following six strong innings from starter Kevin Lidle. Leviere allowed only two base runners, a Willie Phillips bloop double to left in the seventh and a two-out walk in the ninth. Otherwise, he was unhittable. His effort not only kept the Cardinals in the game, but eventually shut down any hope for a Raleigh comeback. “I just wanted to come in and throw strikes,” Leviere said. “After we [took the lead], I just wanted to make sure they beat us instead of us beating ourselves.”

A week after leading the Cardinals’ 45-Over National team to a 10-1 championship game victory over the Rhode Island Salty Dogs, things weren’t nearly as easy. East Coast took a 1-0, third-inning lead on three consecutive singles, the last being Jason Torres’ shot to left to plate Huston. Thanks to Raleigh starter Johnny Gonzalez escaping further damage by pitching out of a second and third, one-out jam, the Cardinals lead stayed at one. A half-inning later, it was gone.

Raleigh’s Korre Humes was hit by a pitch and scored from first on Paul Regan’s double down the third-base line. Adrian Matlock’s single to left moved Regan to third and, one batter later, a Kris Cline fielder’s choice scored the go-ahead run. With the way Gonzalez was pitching, it appeared the one-run led would be enough. The lanky right hander held the hard-hitting Cardinals off balance most of the way. No stranger to championship games, Gonzalez allowed just four hits and that single run through six innings – even getting a fly out to end a fifth-inning threat with the tying run on third. “In the sixth, I thought this was going to be the day [Raleigh manager] Mike [Wilson] would beat me,” Hash said. “He’s never beaten me before, but with the way they were playing, I thought this could be the time.” Then came the fateful bottom of the seventh.

Former major league all-star Dante Bichette slapped a single to right against a shifted infield and pinch runner Rob Allen was sacrificed to second. When Gonzalez induced a fly out to center, he appeared in position to strand the tying run on base again. However, after pulling a potential go-ahead home run foul, Huston laced a single to left to score Allen. Huston then stole second and scored the eventual winning run when Chris Torres’ chopper bounced over Matlock’s left shoulder and into left field. “We wanted our guys to have a purpose with every at-bat and we started seeing that today,” Hash said. “Today it just happened to go our way.”

For Wilson, who completed a rare feat of his own by leading his team to the National title game a year after capturing the American championship, the loss was overshadowed by the play on the field. “This was just a great ball game,” Wilson said. “They’re a talented team with good pitching and we have a group of really good guys. The guys are hurting now, but they know we accomplished a lot. We didn’t accomplish everything, but we all know we accomplished a lot.”

Red Sox          000      200      000 – 2 8 0

Cardinals       001      000      20x – 3 7 1

WP: Leviere.LP: Gonzalez. 2B: Regan, Phillips (RAL). Pitching: Gonzalez and Regan (RAL). Lidle, Leviere (7) and J. Torres (EC)