By winning the first two games of a potential best-of-three series, the Mets took back the National Championship title that the Mustangs had won last year. This is the third straight year these two teams have contested the National Championship, and the Mets have now won on two of those occasions.
London starter Ethan Solomon threw a seven-inning four-hit gem against the Mustangs today, spotting his fastball beautifully and mixing in an overhand curve and change-up to keep a potent Southampton line-up off balance. Solomon struck out five Mustangs and gave up a pair of walks in the bottom of the second inning, when Southampton mounted one of their few threats, but he also induced eight ground balls that the Mets’ infield handled flawlessly and allowed only two Southampton runners to get as far as third base.
What will give the Mustangs sleepless nights over the winter is that having let Game One on Saturday get away from a winning position, they gifted the Mets four crucial runs today that effectively decided the game and the title.
With their ace, GB pitcher Rei Martinez, unavailable yesterday, the Southampton plan had been to try to steal the Saturday game knowing that whatever happened, they had Martinez available to pitch the first game on Sunday. Saturday went wrong, but there was Martinez taking the mound just before noon today, with his assortment of sidearm and submarine arm angles and his nasty slider to right-handed batters – which is all the Mets have.
“If we win,” Southampton Manager Ben Davis said before Sunday’s game started, “we’ll pitch Game 3 by committee and hope for the best.”
And it wasn’t really Rei Martinez’s fault that the plan went wrong. Though not at his best, Martinez, who also pitched the full seven innings, held the Mets to seven hits and generally kept their strong offense under control. But no one could have foreseen the weird nightmare that descended on the Mustangs in the top of the second inning after both teams had gone down in order in the first.
The lead-off hitter for the Mets in the top of the second inning was first baseman Richard Minford, who had three hits and two RBIs to lead the Mets’ offense. Here, he drove the ball sharply to left field, where Ryan Trask made the fatal mistake of taking two steps in before turning and leaping hopelessly at the ball as it sailed over his head.
Minford wound up on third, and a few moments later crossed home plate on a wild pitch.
It was only one run, and Rei Martinez struck out the next batter, Marshall Crawford, with a great sidearm slider. But Martinez then put three of the next four Mets’ batters on base, hitting Grant Delzoppo with a pitch, walking Jamie Dix and Sam Sproule.
In between all that, Martinez had retired Robert Hero on a fly ball to centre field, so the bases were loaded with two out when Freddy Mosier came to the plate, and still only one run had scored. On a 1-2 count, Mosier swung and missed at a pitch down and in, which trickled away from catcher Ambiorix Hurtado.
What happened after that unfolded, at first, in slow motion. Freddy Mosier took a few steps towards first base, but was probably thinking that “first base was occupied; I can’t do this.” Similarly, Grant Delzoppo took a few steps towards home from third base. Meanwhile, Ambiorix Hurtado retrieved the ball, hesitated, then decided that as Mosier was proceeding towards first, he might as well throw down there and complete the strikeout, just in case.
But Hurtado’s toss sailed over the head of first baseman Miguel Rodriguez and down the right field line, and suddenly runners were running and both Delzoppo and Jamie Dix scored, while Sam Sproule scooted around to third.
Naturally, both managers came out and eventually the umpires went into conference mode. The rule is that a batter can’t run on a dropped third strike if first base is occupied – unless there are two out! So the umpires came back and ruled, correctly, that the play had been live and everything that had happened counted.
So now it was 3-0 to the Mets, and shortly after that it was 4-0 as a flustered Rei Martinez committed a balk and Sam Sproule trotted home.
It was only the top of the second inning, but as it happened, those four runs had decided the ball game.
The Mets added single runs in the top of the fifth and seventh innings to bring the final score to 6-0, and even these had a touch of strangeness about them.
Both were scored by Carlos Dominguez, who happened to be on second base each time when Richard Minford came to the plate, and both times, Minford hit a ground ball to second base – or at least to where Mustangs’ second baseman Arley Lorenzo had been standing. But on each occasion, Lorenzo had broken towards second, once to cover on a steal attempt and the second time to bluff Dominguez back to the base, and Lorenzo could only turn and watch helplessly – twice -- as the ball sped past where he had been a moment before and Dominguez came around to score.
As well as he pitched, it would be hard to say that Ethan Solomon completely dominated the Southampton offense. But he did contain them, and he made big pitches when it mattered. The Mets’ defense, which played errorless ball behind him, did the rest.
The Mustangs had baserunners in four of the seven innings, and two of these attempted rallies included singles by Juan Diaz (Arley Lorenzo and Mike Trask had Southampton’s other two hits). But Solomon ended two of the threats with strikeouts, and a fine running catch of Arley Lorenzo’s line drive by left fielder Marshall Crawford in the third inning stalled another attempted breakthrough.
By the time it got to the bottom of the seventh inning, Southampton had run out of steam. Solomon froze Gio Escalona with a slow curve for strike three, Mike Trask flew out to right field and Miguel Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to second base.
And then the Mets celebrated, with Jonathon Cramman eventually doused with the traditional bucket of water.
Jonathon Cramman said, “I’ve been thinking about this moment since January 4 when I took on the job.
“We won because we played together as a team this weekend. On Saturday, when we fell behind, we were tight, but we then made a decision to relax and enjoy ourselves, and that’s when we played our best baseball. And of course Ethan pitched seven brilliant innings today.
“Yesterday, we were a bit bewildered and we wondered how we won that game,” Cramman added. “But today, we just played better than they did."
Mustangs’ Manager Ben Davis didn’t disagree.
“We didn’t play well enough today,” Davis said, “and we were out-pitched. Solomon quieted our offense. If we don’t hit and we don’t score runs, we don’t win.
“It’s tough,” he said, “after all the offense we put up this year. But they beat us fair and square.”