2017 30+ National

Boston Cardinals 20, East Coast Cardinals 11

‘Offense Takes Center Stage in Slugfest’

By: Chris Errington, special to MSBL National

January 16, 2017, Kissimmee, FL – Watching his team score 10 runs while sending 14 batters to the plate in the sixth inning, it would have been understandable if Boston Cardinals manager Rich Slamin relaxed, knowing his teams’ second Holiday Classic championship in three years was all but assured. But not Slamin, not against the East Coast Cardinals, and not when you’re playing for the memory of a loved one.

Sure enough, the offensive explosion was matched in the bottom half of the inning when EC scored nine runs of its own. In the end, it was Slamin’s lack of complacency that kept Boston from relaxing and, as a result, helped finally put the game away over the final three innings. When it was finished, Boston had earned an offensive-dominated 20-11 victory over the defending champions that spoke as much about resiliency as it did for love and comradery.

“Against a team like [East Coast] who has so much talent, we knew even 10 runs wasn’t going to be enough,” Slamin said. “We knew we’d need to keep scoring, so when they made it a game again, it wasn’t a big shock. I’m glad the guys responded. We all knew, this one was for Ellis.”

In a tribute to Ellis Robles, the mother of a Boston player who died of cancer, and as a signal of the family bond this Cardinals team possessed above all others, each cap was initialed with the letters “ER.” Slamin said it was her memory that helped make this team – and this championship – so special. “Two years ago, we had a great team and won it all, but the chemistry wasn’t good,” the manager said. “Last year, we went with a group of very talented players and couldn’t do anything. This time, we just wanted to come here with guys who respected each other and treated each other like family. It really paid off in the end.” Even if it wasn’t always pretty.

With a game time of three hours and 54 minutes, the teams combined for 31 hits, five errors, nine base on balls and six wild pitches. Still, when it was over, Boston players agreed that the championship victory – despite the flawed execution – was even better than the title won just two years ago. “This one is special, because we all did it together,” Slamin said.

With Boston leading 2-1 following Luis Valdez’s first-inning RBI single and a third-inning Darwin Hernandez sacrifice fly, the game’s dynamic irrevocably changed in the sixth. An infield error was the prelude to 11 Boston batters reaching base and a close game becoming a rout – even if for only a half inning. Tournament MVP Steven Rodriguez, who finished the week with 18 hits, had a run-scoring double down the left field line for a 3-1 lead, before Hernandez blasted a two-run homer to left to make it 5-1. And Boston was just getting started.

A pair of bases on balls sandwiched a Victor Arroyo single. One run scored on a Ruben Rodriguez sac fly, another on a wild pitch and a third on Joel Torres’ single to left to push the lead to 8-1. After a Johan Hernandez single made it 9-1, Darwin Hernandez hit a bases-clearing double to left for a commanding 12-1 lead. Still, if anyone was celebrating, it wasn’t Slamin. “I’d told them it wasn’t over,” he said “and I was right.”

Back came East Coast. Despite being held to just one hit and a single run through the first five innings, the Cardinals sent 13 men to the plate and scored nine times. Mick Myers led off with a walk and later added an RBI single. In between, eight consecutive East Coast batters reached and scored, four coming on Larry Hingle’s two-run single and Johnny Greer’s two-run triple to center. When it was finally finished, the sixth inning had lasted more than an hour and produced 19 runs on 13 hits, while sending 27 batters to the plate. “I’ve been in games like this before,” veteran East Coast manager David Hash said. “We were pretty much out of pitching and sometimes that happens. [After trailing 12-1], the guys came back to the dugout and were quiet. They just kept digging in and knew they had a job to do. We almost got it done.”

While winning pitcher Alexis Fumero went about shutting down East Coast hitters the rest of the way, Boston immediately pushed the lead back to 15-10 in the top of the seventh. It then put the game away with five more in the ninth. Not surprisingly, Steven Rodriguez played a role in both, singling twice and driving in two.

“This was just a great week,” Rodriguez said. “I really felt good up there and kept fighting and battling. I just wanted to put pitches in play and luckily they turned into hits.”

Boston             101      00(10)  305 – 20 21 2

East Coast       000      109      010 – 11 10 3

WP: Delgado. LP: Molnar. 2B: S. Rodriguez (2), D. Hernandez (B). K. Blackwell (EC). 3B: Greer (EC). HR: D. Hernandez (B). Pitching: Delgado, Fumero (6) and D. Hernandez (B). Smith, Budds (6), Molnar (6), Hinkle (7) and Myers (EC)