Tampa Thunder 10, Coral Gables A’s 2
‘Rodriguez Holds A’s to Three Hits’
By Chris Errington, Special to MSBL
January 15, 2018, Kissimmee, FL – Not stolen equipment, an extra-inning semifinal or having to play a dominant opponent in the finals could keep the Tampa Thunder from fulfilling a promise a year in the making. Geovanie Rodriguez, a late addition to the team, tossed a three-hitter and the Thunder parlayed a four-run first inning into an advantage they never relinquished in cruising to the 18+ championship.
The victory erased the bitter taste of losing in last year’s finals and gave the Thunder their first Holiday Classic title.
“[It was] very important to get back and win it this time,” said Tampa manager Pier Ballesteros. “We’ve been together a long time and talked about [winning a championship] right after we lost last year.” Vic Pagan finished 2-for-3 with a double, RBI and run scored, while Alex Novell added two hits, an RBI and run scored as Tampa finished with 13 hits. Those hits, plus uncharacteristic Coral Gables’ defensive miscues led to a trio of big innings that proved the difference. After the A’s trimmed a four-run deficit in half, Tampa broke the game open by scoring three runs in the sixth and three more in the seventh.
Rodriguez, who pitches for an Independent League team in Puerto Rico, proved he was more than capable of holding the lead. Relying on off-speed pitches, mixed with occasional fastballs, the right hander’s only start of the tournament was a memorable one. He retired the first seven batters he faced, then 10 straight from the fourth through seventh innings. It was during that second juncture when his dominance was most important.
“I only joined the team two weeks ago,” said Rodriguez,who hadn’t pitched in a game in four months. “When we started the tournament, I was told I was getting the ball in the final. I just wanted to hit my locations. Sometimes I felt like I was in command. When I go on the mound, I’m in a completely different mindset. It’s my world and I get locked in. I wanted the ball all the way.”
After run-scoring doubles from Pagan and Novell helped stake the Thunder to a 4-0 first-inning lead, Coral Gables mounted its only threat of the game. The A’s, who rolled to a 3-0 round robin record by outscoring their opponents 16-3, used a one-out walk and Nick Silva’s booming double to right-center to cut the deficit to 4-1. When Silva scored on an error one out later, the lead was cut in half and Coral Gables appeared to seize the momentum. But when a running miscue ended the threat, the Tampa lead remained and Rodriguez went to work. The right hander didn’t allow another hit until Albert Santiago’s one-out double in the seventh. By then, the advantage had swelled to 10-2 and Tampa was nearly home free.
A ground out, Nolan Haymessingle and an infield error plated three Tampa runs in the sixth, before a Chris Gormley sacrifice fly and Martin’s double to left scored three more an inning later to put the game out of reach. “To get down 4-0 early was tough,” Coral Gables manager Miguel Garcia said, “but then we got two and were back in the game. Then, when they had those two big innings, it was over. Our team is built on solid pitching and defense and today we had a few bad innings. Our pitching and defense let up a little and you can’t do that against a good team. This wasn’t the team we were all week.”
The loss kept Coral Gables from earning a third tournament championship in four years and fifth overall. The A’s captured titles in 2015 and 2016, before missing the playoffs last year. For the Thunder, a week that began with anger, disorder and a whole lot of missing equipment and uniforms, ended in the sun. Even if it came following a marathon 10-inning, 9-4 semifinal victory over the same Dade City Brewers which defeated them in last year’s tournament championship game. The extended game pushed the start time for the championship back nearly two hours, but following what had occurred, the delay was negligible.
At the beginning of the week, Thunder players, all staying in the same hotel, were holding running races in the parking lot to determine the group’s fastest individual. They were approached by a few strangers who asked to participate in the races and, when the players agreed and were distracted with the proceedings, some of their equipment and uniforms were stolen out of the back of a player’s truck. Fortunately, Ballesteros had brought additional uniforms and catcher’s equipment to the tournament, so, while sporting different numbers than usual, Tampa players at least were still able to play. “Guys weren’t happy about it, but we didn’t let it bother us too much,” the manager said. “The funny thing is, our guys won the race.”
And in the end, they won a Holiday Classic tournament championship as well.
Thunder 4 0 0 0 0 3 3 0 0 – 10 13 2
A’s 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 2 3 2
WP: Rodriguez. LP: Roque. 2B: Pagan, Novell, Cappuyo, Martin (T). Silva, Santiago (CG). Pitching: Roque, Jordon (7) and Pagan (T). Cappuyo and Mojica (CG).