East Coast Cardinals 16, Tampa Blue Jays 1
‘MVP Hingle Pounds Out Four Doubles’
By Chris Errington, special to MSBL
November 11, 2017, Clearwater, FL – Pairing one of the Fall Classic’s best hitters with a former MLB Silver Slugger Award winner is a difficult combination to beat. Just ask the Tampa Blue Jays.
East Coast Cardinals first baseman Larry Hingle parlayed extensive batting cage work with former MLB hitting star and teammate Dante Bichette into a 4-for-5 effort with four doubles, two RBI and four runs scored in a runaway 45 National Fall Classic championship game victory.
“Larry, Dante and [catcher] Matt [Branz] have really put in the effort in the cage together and it shows,” Cardinals manager David Hash said. “Larry just had a day.”
For the left-hitting first baseman from Orlando, the title game performance was nothing more than the benefits of playing with such a talented team and a lot of work in the batting cage.
“Dante and I’ve been working together for a long time,”Hingle said. “It’s great having someone like him on the team, because he can watch my swing and give me some analysis. He’s taught me a lot and we’ve been working on hitting through the ball while staying behind it.”
Hingle likened his approach in the cage and during the game as an attempt to mimic the swings of MLB greats Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. Against the Blue Jays, the tournament MVP produced a performance even he can’t remember duplicating.
“I’ve had some games where I smoked the ball a few times,” he said, “but today the goal was to square up every pitch wherever they threw it. In a game like today, it feels like it’s happening in slow motion. Like the bat swings itself.” Hingle doubled leading off the second and fourth, was intentionally walked in the sixth, then doubled again in the seventh and eighth. His only out was a hard hit ball to second that ended the top of the ninth.
Still, despite the lopsided score, Tampa manager David Castro admitted the outcome could have been far worse for his club. EC left six runners on base during the first four innings before finally breaking through with a run in the fifth and a 1-0 lead on Kiko Garcia’s run-scoring single to right. Then, sensing they’d allowed Tampa to hang around long enough, the Cardinals broke the game wide open.
Ten batters, six runs and five hits later, EC’s lead was a dominating 7-0. Chad Sanders led off with a single to left and moved to second on a wild pitch before just beating the throw to the plate on Danny Cuff’s single to center. A walk and infield hit made the score 3-0, helped loaded the bases and set the stage for the biggest at-bat of the game. Third baseman Chris Reeder laced a three-run double down the left field line for a six-run lead, before scoring on Rey Gallagher’s sacrifice fly to left to make it 7-0.
After a Hingle double and Danny Cuff single made it 8-0 an inning later, the Cardinals solidified the rout in the eighth. Twelve EC batters came to the plate with nine reaching base and seven scoring. When the onslaught was finally over, the Cardinals led 15-0 and it was just a matter of counting down the final outs.
“We were lucky in the first few innings to get out of it still tied,” Castro said of his Blue Jays, which also lost in last year’s Fall Classic championship game. “Then in the sixth, they took it to us and hit the ball like they did the whole tournament. They’re just incredible.”
Nearly lost in the offensive outburst was a dominating performance from starting pitcher David Benedict. Inducing numerous ground balls to a defense that played nearly error-fee, Benedict cruised. Heading into the ninth, he had retired 20 of the previous 25 hitters and hadn’t yielded a run. “He’s an animal,” Hash said of his starter. “The guy played every inning of the tournament and would have been against me taking him out.”
It wasn’t until the ninth that a glimmer of infallibility befell the Cardinals when a walk, single and error played the Blue Jays’ lone run. For Hash, another week in Florida ended in another title and another opportunity to share the moment with the players who’ve played such a central role in his life for so long. It’s no wonder he notes that winning never gets old.
“I’m more settled now,” Hash said in comparison to earlier managerial years. “I’m calmer and make better decisions. But I’m always nervous and always have butterflies before games. I ask myself, ‘After all these years, should I still be nervous?’Each time, it’s a great feeling [to win].”
EC finished round-robin play just 3-2, including a 4-1 loss to Tampa, before defeating the defending champion Monarchs 4-3 to reach the final.
The Blue Jays fared better in round-robin play, going 4-1, then scored a ninth-inning run to top the Chicago-Brooklyn Royals 8-7 in the semifinals.
EC 000 016 171 – 16 21 1
Tampa 000 000 001 – 1 7 0
WP: Benedict. LP: Reyes. 2B: Hinkle 4, Reeder (EC). Pitching: Benedict and Branz (EC). Reyes, Lugo (6) Vasquez (8), J. Delgado (8) and P. Copcecion.