A much-depleted Trojans side welcomed the A’s to Bootle Stadium on Sunday as they sought to bounce back from their second defeat of the season last weekend.
This was the first meeting between the Trojans and A’s this season and, though the Trojans were probably going into the double-header as favourites, the A’s have produced some great results earlier in the season so were sure to be a threat. To add to the uncertainty of the outcome of the games the merseysiders were down to a bare nine as injuries and sickness ravaged a squad already affected by holidays, work commitments and international departures - But the quality within the Trojans squad these days runs deep.
A’s 0 Trojans 13 (5 innings)
Perhaps looking to steady a ship that could have easily been rocked, manager Ian Blease turned to the old reliable arm of Martin Godsall to get things going, and the veteran was only too happy to oblige swiftly shutting down the A’s in order to start the game.
On the mound for Manchester was another veteran in Jonny Creelman. He looked to getting off to a similarly impressive started as he forced Paul Mason into a groundout and Dave Martin Baez popped out to shortstop. Unfortunately for him though, Trojans newcomer Matt Agnostinelli had other ideas. His single to centrefield keep the inning alive before Victor Juarez moved him over to second on his own leftfield single. Over the years, the Trojans have depended on RBIs supplied by Paul Smith on many an occasion, and just like he has so many times before, he delivered. His liner to rightfield drove in Agnostinelli, and though Juarez was caught gunning for home, he had given the Trojans a lead that they would not surrender.
Godsall again looked sharp in the top of the second, one runner did reach base on an error, as Smith misjudged an infield fly ball, but no damage was done as the very next hitter ground into a double-play to end the inning.
Rick Mills led off the top of the second with a single, before he stole second base. Mike Gaskell’s groundout moved him over to third base, this allowed him to score on a wild pitch. That was the only run in the inning as Creelman managed to keep his side in touch.
Godsall again shut down the A’s in order in the top of the third as he continued to dominate from the hill.
Martin Baez led off the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot over the centrefield fence as his impressive season with the bat continued to bear fruit. Not to be outdone Smith homered following Juarez’s walk to drive in two more, but the Trojans weren’t quite done yet. Mills singled again, stole second again and got moved over to third by Gaskell (again). This time though, he would score on Martin Godsall’s double as the pitcher aided his own cause with the bat – something he has rather uncharacteristically been doing quite a lot lately. GB u19 Matt Waddington would strike out to end the inning but the Trojans were now in possession of a 6-0 lead.
The top of the fourth saw Godsall’s bid for a no-hitter put to bed as his opposite number Creelman lined a ball agonisingly short of Mills in centrefield. Godsall wasn’t distracted though, and kept his concentration to retire the side and maintain his healthy lead.
The Trojan bats really got going in the bottom of the fourth and realistically ended any slim chance that the A’s had of emerging victorious in the first contest of the day. After Mason reached on error, Martin Baez doubled to set the table for Agnostinelli. His sac-fly scored Mason and moved Martin Baez over to third. Juarez walked to put runners on the corners before Smith delivered his fourth RBI of the game as Martin Baez scored on his single. With runners on first and second Mills bunted for a hit to load the bases. The sportsmanship of Creelman came into play here too as Mills was originally called out on a missed tag applied by the pitcher as he fielded the bunt. Creelman wasted no time in correcting the umpire as soon as the call was made. There are still some nice guys in baseball. There then came a string of A’s errors that they will not look back on kindly at all.
With the bases loaded and only one out, Gaskell could only manage a softly hit grounder down the first base line. Again Creelman was quick to the ball, but inexplicably tagged the runner with his glove hand while holding the ball in this throwing hand. This allowed Juarez to score and Gaskell was aboard too, meaning the bases were still loaded for Godsall. He could only manage a dribbler to A’s third baseman Ian McDougal, but a handling error in the field meant that there was no play at first and another run was scored. As the circus continued to run riot in the A’s infield there was time for just one more error as Shortstop Phil Wood’s throwing error allowed two more runs to score.
After three quickfire errors some order was restored when Mason flew out to right, but there was still time for one final run as Dave Martin Baez’s single to centrefield scored Godsall before Agnostinelli popped out to end the inning.
With the score now 13-0 in favour of the Trojans the A’s knew that they needed four runs just to keep the game alive as failing to do so would invoke the slaughter rule. However, the mood Godsall was in, this was never likely to happen. It was three up, three down and the ballgame was over. Godsall pitched 5 innings, allowing 1 hit with 8 strikeouts and no runs.
A’s 5 Trojans 19
The threadbare Trojans squad was woefully short of pitching on the day and so Godsall was sent out to start game two having already thrown over 70 pitches in game one. It didn’t seem to affect him though as the side was, once again, retired in order.
On the mound was the A’s was the 14 year-old enigma Sho Sato. Sato has enjoyed some impressive outings this term despite his years but he was immediately in trouble against the big hitting Trojans line up.
Paul Mason led off with a single then stole second before reaching third on a wild pitch. Dave Martin Baez started the second game just as hot as he ended the first and delivered a single to score Mason and put the Trojans in an early lead. Martin Baez would then score second before scoring on Victor Juarez’s single to centrefield. Agnostinelli had previously flown out to left and so Paul Smith’s groundout put the second out on the board. Perhaps the A’s would escape without too much damage? The Trojans had other ideas.
Mills walked, stole second and was scored by Gaskell’s single. Godsall then singled to put runners on the corners and then stole second uncontested. With runners on second and third Matty Waddington trickled the ball down to McDougal on third, only for his wayward throw to allow both runs to score and Waddington to reach second. Back to back HBPs for Mason and Martin Baez followed to load the bases for Agnostinelli who drove a hard grounder through the infield to score Waddngton and Mason. Juarez then walked to again load the bases. Another walk followed, this time for Smith who picked up an RBI as Martin Baez crossed the plate. Mills was infuriated with himself when he groundout to end the inning but the damage had been done as the Trojans had a 9-0 lead to protect.
The top of the second went to show that Martin Godsall is in fact human. After throwing approximately 100 pitches he finally gave up a run when Phil Wood drove in Sho Sato to end his scoreless streak. Godsall would allow no further damage as, due to league rules, he would leave the mound after pitching two innings in this game.
Sato appeared to have calmed down a bit in the bottom of the second inning as he quickly picked up two outs before Matty Waddingtin singled up the middle to extend the inning. The GB prospect would then steal second before Paul Mason singled to move him to third. Bothe runners would then score on Martin Baez’s line drive to centrefield before Matt Agnostinelli notched up his second home run in as many weeks to extend the lead further.
Godsall was replaced on the mound by Mike Gaskell, a change that brought particular attention from some on the A’s bench due to his previous affiliation with them before opting to join the Trojans in the off-season. Due to injury and the pressure of renovating his own house Gaskell’s playing time has been much-restricted this season, meaning that this was the promising hurler’s first visit to the hill all season. As introductions go, three up three down against a team that you used to play for isn’t a bad effort.
After consistently bothering the scorers throughout both games the Trojan bats took some time off in the bottom of the third. Sato’s last inning would be by far his best inning as the Trojans were retired having seen just four pitches.
After Gaskell’s stunning opening chapter the effects of not pitching much began to catch up with him in the top of the fourth inning. He wouldn’t give up any hits but three walks and a HBP would be enough for the A’s score their second run of the game.
After their short rest, the Trojan bats came back out for the bottom half of the inning as Sato was relieved of his pitching duties in favour of Rob Woodhead. Godsall led off with a walk before eventually scoring on Mason’s sac-fly. Dave Martin Baez would single again (yes, really) before Agnostinelli doubled. Victor Juarez’s grounder through the infield into left would score Martin Baez before Smith was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Seeking to make amends for his earlier failure in the same position, Mills refocused himself and waited for the right pitch to come. His patience paid off as he crushed a grand slam over the fence in right field much to his own relief and the delight of his team-mates.
With a 19-2 lead, Gaskell came back out to try and close out the game. He was under a strict pitch count though and soon began to show signs of tiredness. He gave up a HBP to McDougal – catching him right on the inexplicably nicknamed “funny bone” – before he walked Sato. Phil Clark would then single to load the bases with just one out. Three runs would score on a series of wild pitches and walks before Gaskell’s otherwise impressive outing was brought to a close as Blease opted to enforce the pitch count and replace him with just two-thirds of an inning to go. Paul Smith came in in relief and eight pitches and two outs later, the game was over. The Trojans ran out winners by a score 19 – 5.
Following the game Blease praised the “almost flawless” performance of his team as they prepare for a tough run in of games against the likes of Bolton, Sheffield, Hull and Manchester (again). “If we play like that every week then any team in the country will find it difficult to beat us. It isn’t always that easy though and we have to find the right formulae to beat whoever is put in front of us. One of the best things about this team is that nobody thinks they are bigger than anybody else. Everybody works for the team and does what is asked of them. In game one today we saw a perfectly executed bunt laid down by Rick, who’s in the chase for the home run crown this year. He didn’t gripe when the sign was put on, just nodded and got the job done.”
The Trojans hit four home runs as Martin Baez (1), Smith (2), Agnostinelli (2) and Mills (3) all added to their tallies for the season. The Trojans also showed some stellar defensive work making only two errors across ten innings. Arguably the greatest contribution of the day came from a familiar face in Martin Godsall though. He picked up two wins from seven innings pitched, giving up only one run while striking out twelve. Even at 47, he’s still the best around (cue the music and stick on a Goddy montage).
Prior to the double-header getting underway, both teams lined up along in blaze of racing green as they posed for photographs with founding father of the club and British Baseball Hall of Famer, Norman Wells.
In 2016 Wells, 95, is a long retired great-grandfather, but it was as a fresh faced war veteran back in 1946 that he and a group of his friends first formed the Trojans. The name “Trojans” fittingly taken from the favourite beer that Norman and his friends used to enjoy in the Halton Castle pub – Higson’s Trojan. And so began the rich history of the much celebrated club.
Norman remains an active member of the club to this day, never one to miss team meetings or end of season parties. He still manages to get to plenty of games too, having only retired from scorekeeping a handful of seasons ago but still keen to watch his Grandson, Chris, carry on the family tradition.
After the first round of photographs were taken Norman was joined by fellow Trojan royalty in Clive Maude, Rob Alger and, of course, Norman Jr. All of whom have left their mark on the club in their own way across the decades.
It was then time for the ceremonial first pitch, the crowd had reached the dozens by this stage, and all lined up to get a shot of the Trojans’ founding father throwing it out. As a perfectionist, even at 95, Wells wanted to get this pitch right for the cameras and so took a minute to get some practice in before delivering a strike to Norman Jr to officially set proceedings underway.
After all the pomp and ceremony it would be forgivable to forget that there were two games to be played that day but just after noon it was time to play ball!
The form guide would suggest that these games should have been easy wins for the Trojans first team, but the “Twojans” had other ideas and made a quick start. They pounced on Martin Godsall’s consistent strikes, spraying hits around the park and took the lead when debutant Matt Agostinelli drove home Jamie Kerr on a single to left field.
For the Twojans, Jeff Ocenasek, was on pitching duty. After playing with the first team in 2015, Ocenasek was overlooked for selection this term and so was keen to prove the management wrong by putting in an impressive display. He probably couldn’t have wished to get off to a better start as he retired his opponents in order and sent his team out to bat again.
Perhaps the fanfare of the opening ceremony had disrupted Godsall’s game preparations as he continued to give up hits. This time Ed Wrightson’s double was followed up by a single from Dan Groves before he scored on Alirio Melendez-Romero’s sacrifice groundout to give the underdogs a 2-0 lead.
After Paul Smith flew out to left field, it was Ian Blease who stepped up and drove the first hit of the game through the infield to set the Trojans on their way. Blease would then score on Matty Waddington’s single to right, before Martin Godsall took the opportunity to aid his bid for a win by driving in two runs. Godsall himself would also score when Yoshiki Morikawa squeezed his hit up the middle. Harry Wren then popped out to end the inning, but just like that, the score had turned around and the Trojans led 4-2.
The Twojans gave their all to rally back but, by now, Godsall had found his groove and was doing what he does best – shutting down the opponent’s bats. Over the next couple of frames he would allow no runs, but his team would go on to score eleven more as they jumped out to an insurmountable lead.
To their credit the Twojans did try and mount an unlikely comeback in the fifth inning, as they combined for three runs on four hits, the highlight of which being Melendez-Romero’s 2 RBI single. Ultimately though, with the lead being 15-5, at the end of the fifth, the slaughter rule was invoked and that was that for game one.
Game two again saw the Two’s lead early on when Matt Agnostinelli’s single scored Jamie Kerr who had reached base on his own single to left before being advanced by Scott Gray’s ground rule double.
This time however, the Trojans came roaring back and immediately turned the tables on their ever improving development squad. Lead-off hitter, Wren reached base on balls as Agnostinelli initially struggled for control – hardly a surprise as this was his first outing after several years away from the game. Wren then stole second before moving over to third on Paul Mason’s ground-out. He would then score on a past-ball to tie things up.
Victor Juarez, who has been in fine form with the bat this season, was next up and got things started with single driven past the feet of the pitcher. Juarez would then steal second before scoring on Paul Smith’s long single to left-centre. The Trojans had the lead by a score of 2 runs to 1.
But “like Jack Russell nipping at the heels of a Rotweiller” the Twojans were never going to give up easily. Four runs of their own followed in the top of the second hit batters, walks and errors took their toll on the Trojans with Melendez-Romero, Dan Groves, Niall Kane and Richard Brophy crossing the plate to put the Two’s up 5-2.
In the bottom half of the inning, Agnostinelli looked in dominant form. A monster single from Harry Wren scored Colton all the way from first just when it looked like he was going to throw a zero up on the scoreboard.
At 5-3 down the Twojans had the chance to pile the pressure on the first team when they came out to bat at the top of the third. Paul Smith however had other ideas as, despite hitting Richard Brophy with an inside pitch, he quickly shutdown the opposing offense.
Agnostinelli was replaced on the hill in the third by Brophy after a powerful debut outing. As a pitcher, there are days you will always remember. Earlier in the season Brophy was just one out away from a one-hit shutout, he will have fond memories of that day despite the line drive that brought his bid to close at such a crucial time. He may, however, have nightmares about this outing.
His first pitch slipped out of his hand and sailed feet above the umpire and catcher, he did recover though and seemed to have forced Chris Taggart into a ground-out only for an error on the play that would ultimately see Taggart finish up at second base. There were then three consecutive walks and a series of wild pitches that would allow the Trojans to tie the game up.
Things looked to be turning around for Brophy and the Two’s when first Paul Colton popped out to second base then Harry Wren ground in to a fielder’s choice, but finding the final out proved to be a bigger task than anyone could have suggested.
Taggart’s ground-rule double was followed up by Juarez’s fifth home run of the year. From there Paul Smith and Ian Blease singled before, to add insult to injury, Wrightson and Gill both reached on error. Another ground-rule double followed, this time for Rick Mills who pinch-hit for Wren and drove in two more. Chris Taggart eventually groundout to second base to end the inning but the damage was well and truly done as the Trojans scored 14 runs on just 5 hits as 8 walks and 3 errors took their toll on the Two’s.
After that marathon half if the inning, and in the searing heat, Paul Smith was replaced on the mound by Mills. The Canadian would strike out one and give up no hits as he closed out the game. The final score was 17-5 to the Trojans.
The Trojans continue to lead the North West Division with a record of 13 wins and 1 loss, the Twojans slip to a record of 6-8.
“To push us so hard like that is a testament is to how far the Two’s have come over the past few years. A couple of years ago the vast majority of the guys had never played before, and today they took the lead against us, three times.” said Ian Blease, Trojans first team manager. “They all play for each other, and for the love of the game. The character they show in the dressing room is matched by their enthusiasm on the field and if the team can stay together a while longer then who knows what they can achieve. This is their first year playing in a combined northern conference and before today they were sitting at .500 having played most of the big teams, and even taken a few games off them. They were even missing a few players today so we haven’t seen them at full strength. Maybe we’ll even meet them again in the play-offs!”
Prior to the days play Clive Maude and Norman Wells Jr were asking to pick out an MVP for the day and this was awarded to Matty Waddington for his performance in game one. He went two for two with bat, picking up four RBIs as well as handling a couple of hard hit line drives. Waddington was also called up to the GB u18 squad earlier the week, so has plenty to celebrate – after he’s finished his exams!
Game One: Trojans 20 Jaguars 10
From the score line, you would be forgiven for presuming that this was an easy win for Liverpool, but the reality is that this was a very close game.
Prior to the start of the game the managers had agreed to waive the two hour ruling that is generally in force in the northern conference these days. This decision would prove key in the Trojans securing their sixth win of the season.
As the away side, the Trojans side batted first. They were up against the powerful arm of Carl Heesom, somewhat of a familiar foe to many Trojans due to the long-standing rivalry between the two sides. Yoshiki Morikawa led off with a walk and stole second before Paul Mason laced an RBI single into centre-field to give the Trojans an early lead. Not to be outdone Victor Juarez also drove an RBI single to centre-field after Mason had stolen second. Heesom managed to get out of the inning with no further damage as the Trojans gave up three quick outs to strand two runners in scoring position.
After some impressive outings as of late, Garfield Xu was once again on the hill for the Trojans. It seemed like business as usual in the bottom of the first as the Chinese national retired the side in order trapping the Jags into three routine fly-outs.
Tom Wrightson led off the top of the second with a walk before Heesom struck out Xu looking, but not before Wrightson had stolen second. Morikawa moved him over third with a single through the infield. Morikawa stole second before Mason drove in his second run of the day when he groundout to second base. Morikawa would score a wild pitch but Heesom struck out Juarez to end the inning shortly after.
Things began to look up for the Jaguars in the bottom of the second as Xu began to struggle with his control. Two runs scored on five walks in the inning. Remarkably, Xu was still to give up a hit in the game.
The Trojans were quickly retired in the top of the third with troubling the scorekeeper. This brought the Jags back out to bat with a renewed sense of optimism, and a real feeling that they could get back into the game. Xu’s struggles with the ball continued as he gave up several more walks. He was also not helped by some questionable umpiring decisions. First, Paul Mason seemed to have picked off Nick Bustin at third base as Dave Martin Baez applied the tag. This was not given and Bustin would go on to score. Shortly afterwards Martin Baez was involved again as his throw caused first baseman Ian Blease to jump up in the air but it seemed obvious that Blease had landed back on the back while the runner was still several feet away. Again, not given by the umpire.
The aforementioned base runner was Jags catcher Chris Garcia. He was thrown out at home to end the inning. His refusal to slide at home, instead opting to jump feet first at the catcher caused anger from the visitors and earned him a warning from the umpire. The inning was over but the Jaguars were now in possession of an 8-4 lead.
In the top of the fourth, consecutive walks were given up to start the inning and the Trojans would begin their fightback. They chalked up three runs on five walks and an error to close the gap to just one.
The Jags crept further ahead on an error from Paul Mason but Trojans reliever Paul Smith remained calm to ensure no more runs were added.
Heesom was nursing an injury coming in to the game, so it was perhaps not a surprise that Anthony Hulme replaced him in the fifth. However, it is probably an outing that the reliever will wish to forget. The Trojans roared back and plated a total of thirteen runs in the inning with both Morikawa and Blease hitting RBI doubles.
Despite the agreed waiver of the two-hour rule, the slaughter rule was still in effect. This meant that the Jaguars had to score at least two runs to keep the game alive. They managed just the one and three hours (plus) of thrilling baseball was over… Until game two got underway twenty minutes later.
Game Two: Trojans 10 Jaguars 2
After the marathon encounter in game one, it was agreed that the two-hour time limit would be re-instated for the second game of the day. After all, we all have homes to go to!
Mitch Cross was handed the start for the Jaguars at the start of game two. Cross is familiar to many of the Trojans having crossed swords with them many times in the past. He probably was not, but is now, familiar with Morikawa who promptly dispatched the first pitch of the game for a base hit into right field. The Japanese second baseman would go on to score on a Paul Smith RBI groundout as the Trojans took an early lead.
For Liverpool, a club legend returned to the hill to make his first start of the season. After struggling an elbow injury for the last couple of years the Trojans have been re-introducing Martin Godsall to pitching duties very carefully, using him only in relief until now.
The Jaguars were not phased however, and did tie the game in the bottom half of the inning as an overthrow on a pick-off attempt, that Blease had switched off for.
The scores were not level for long though as the Trojans would pile three runs on the board to move into a 4-1 lead. Morikawa and Mason both chipping in with hits.
Time has shown that you give Godsall a lead, and he will keep it. He was his usual dominant self, giving up only two runs in the entire game, both of which were unearned, and striking out ten over six innings. The evergreen veteran continues to bloom.
The Trojans would add three more insurance runs in the fourth, two in the fifth and one more in the sixth as they cruised to victory in far more comfortable fashion than that of the first game. By the time Godsall had struck out the hitter to end the sixth, the time limit had expired and the ball game was over.
Forty-two runs had been scored as the dust settled at the end of the day’s play. A truly exhilarating day if baseball. The Trojans move to 7-1 on the season, as they stay top of the Western Conference while Halton, who suffered their first losses of the season, have a 4-2 record.