The late scholar, university president, and Commissioner of Major League Baseball, A. Bart Giamatti, once wrote, “Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”
Bart Giamatti, apparently, didn’t root for the Bethesda Big Train.
You can read (if you have to) about the Big Train’s victory and their fourth straight Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League title in Alexander Dacy’s valedictory report on the site, Big Train Rally to Win Championship as T-Bolts Falter. While the loss will linger among T-Bolts for a few days, a larger perspective may be warranted to see just what this team accomplished in two months of a Washington summer.
First off, congratulations to the Bethesda Big Train on their comeback victory. After falling behind early, they held off the Thunderbolts before taking advantage of their opportunities in the eighth inning to score six runs and win the deciding game, 6-4.
What Thunderbolts observers will know, though, was that the Series was in the Thunderbolts’ hands for the taking, both Tuesday night and last night. But the team could just not get the one hit, one strike, or one out they needed to win a game and a Series. That, plus the same problem that plagued the team throughout the summer—walks, and in particular, lead off walks—sunk the team in the deciding game.
In Game Two, on Tuesday night, for example, with the Big Train leading 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh before a packed and roaring home crowd at Blair, an error allowing Cole Freise (Millersville) to reach base, a single from Brady Pearre (High Point), and a wild pitch, put runners on second and third with one out and the Bolts leading RBI producer, Tony Gallo (Lehigh) coming to the plate. A hit would have tied the game and Tony already had a single and a double. What looked like a second wild pitch scored Freise from third, cutting the margin to one.
But after a protest and umpire consultation, the ruling was that Gallo was instead hit by the pitch. Freise went back to third and the run was taken off the board. After cooler heads prevailed, the consensus was that Gallo was indeed hit, so the ruling was correct.
Nevertheless, the Bolts had the bases loaded with just one out. A single would bring in two runs and tie the game. An extra-base hit would likely bring in three and put the T-Bolts ahead. But the next two batters couldn’t bring home any runs from the Big Train’s gifts, and the opportunity, and subsequently, the game—and maybe the Series—slipped away. The Bolts went quietly in the next two innings, giving the Train the 6-3 win, tying the Series and sending it back to Povich.
On Wednesday, in the deciding game, the Bolts spurted to a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a walk, single, double, and error. But they left a runner on second. To lead off the second inning, Tyler Murray (Hawaii) got an infield single and went to second on a throwing error. But two flyouts and a groundout left him stranded.
The Bolts were quiet in the fourth and fifth, but in the sixth after two quick outs, a Cole Freise single and a steal of second put another runner in scoring position. This time, Ian McMillan (Houston) delivered a clutch two-out, two-strike base hit, scoring Freise to make it 4-0, and Thunderbolts fans breathed a sigh of relief as the team broke through again against Big Train pitching. They scored what seemed to be an important run.
Then came the seventh. It began with a walk to Dom Ford (Queens University of Charlotte), steals of second and third, a walk to Brady Pearre and his steal of second. That put two runners on with one out. Following a strikeout, Lucas Donlon (Virginia Tech) walked, loading the bases with two out. This was the moment to break the game wide open. But the moment passed as the T-Bolts could not score leaving three more runners stranded.
In the top of the eighth, the T-Bolts received another two gifts from the Big Train—a hit batter and a four-pitch walk—putting runners at first and second with two down, but still they could not bring anybody home. You know what happened next.
All in all, the Bolts stranded nine runners; and had even a couple of those runners come in, things would have been very different.
On the pitching side, we will always remember two of the greatest clutch performances by T-Bolts starting pitchers in their playoff history. Nicholas Charleson (Queens University of Charlotte) faced the Big Train in Game One at Povich and threw seven innings of no-run, two-hit baseball. By the seventh, the Bolts led 7-0. The relief tandem of Brady Pearre and Bradyn Kail (California University of Pennsylvania) continued the Bolts dominance and the issue was never in doubt.
In the third game, with the Big Train crowd spoiling for a blowout, Alex Mykut (Millersville) threw his heart out, not allowing a run or a hit through six innings. Like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the right hander fought tooth and nail and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in the most hostile environment in the CRCBL.
In fact, in the 17 innings over the two games played at Povich, T-Bolts pitchers held the mighty Big Train scoreless in all but one of them. To put it mildly, the Train did not score at home against the Bolts in 16 consecutive innings. That is an accomplishment that shouldn’t be overlooked in the heat of the emotions surrounding the Bolts loss.
But in other areas, the pitching faltered. The staff would repeatedly pick up the first two outs in an inning but couldn’t get the third before damage was done. On Tuesday night, the Bolts pitchers had five Big Train batters at two strikes in the count, but they all produced hits. In Wednesday’s eighth inning for the Big Train, the Bolts still led 4-3 after Ian McMillan made a gutsy throw home to Tyler Murray to nab Drew Hamrock (University of Virginia) trying to score from third. Then, Tate Soderstrom (University of Arizona) struck out. With a runner on first, the Bolts needed just one more out to survive the inning and maintain their lead heading into the ninth.
Then came the fateful walks. The bottom of the eighth began for the Big Train with a base on balls to Christian Jayne (E Carolina), and from there, the crowd got into it as if some magic spell had been lifted, and the momentum shifted to the Big Train. So with two outs and one on—and the Bolts still ahead—Silver Spring-Takoma had three opportunities to pick up one out. But they couldn’t. The Big Train drew two additional walks on 3-2 counts loading the bases. The Train was able to cash in their gifts on a two-RBI single from Gio Diaz (St Marys College California) and an RBI double from Christian Jayne batting for the second time in the inning. Game over.
The Bolts ended up issuing eight walks. Half of those came in the eighth inning which led to three Big Train runs. There’s your ballgame.
But how many of you said before the series that you would have been happy with the Bolts winning one game of the three? Satisfied with giving the Big Train a run for their money and keeping it close? The Big Train website, in all humility, asked if it was even possible that the Big Train could lose a game, let alone a series. Well, if that’s what you wanted from the T-Bolts, you got what you wished for and more.
When you eventually get past last night’s loss, the Bolts of 2019 were one of the most successful teams that GM Brian Brewer and Head Coach Doug Remer, along with coach Marcus Johnson and new pitching Coach Brock Hunter, put on the field in some time. They won 20 games equaling the total of the 2015 and 2016 teams, but with a significant difference. Those teams finished at .500 at 20-20. These Bolts, in a rain-shortened season, finished well over .500, at 20-18.
In the previous two years, the Bolts had to scramble on the last day of the season to even make the playoffs with losing records of 18-22. That meant a play-in game, the lowest seed, and a direct path to Shirley Povich Field.
This time, the Bolts secured the second seed in the CRCBL, avoiding a play-in game that could drain the team’s pitchers and exhaust hitters and fielders, not to mention fans. They entered a Semi-Final Series with the initial game at Blair, the first time the team has played at home in a playoff series since 2017. They swept their opponents, the DC Grays, and made the Championship Series for the first time since 2006.
They won their second game of the year at Povich Monday night (a feat only equaled by the DC Grays) and thoroughly spanked the Train at at home, 9-0. Blair was filled to the gills on Tuesday night with a record crowd; people were standing between the bleachers and scrambling to find rare single seats. The community rallied to support the team.
In the end, the Bolts gave the Big Train all they could handle and then some. Those in Bethesda expecting a crushing two-game sweep and stately coronation were sorely disappointed. For two games, and for 16 of 17 innings on the Train’s home field, the Bethesda fans were more than a little anxious. And if giving Bethesda fans angst is not enough, we can always savor the pitching performances of Nicholas Charleson and Alex Mykut in the face of playoff pressure to treasure in the off-season.
So while the Bolts loss may sting in the short run, there’s plenty to be happy about over the next ten months as the team prepares to put out its 2020 edition. For a season of thrills, victory, excitement, and accomplishment, thanks, guys. You made for a memorable two months of summer. Best of luck in the classroom and on the field, and, here in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, we’ll be back at it 11 months from now.