Friday, August 22, 2008

Leading Men

Leading Men: Mariners take 2-0 Lead in ITL Championship Series
By Jason Brisbois


Familiarity may not have bred contempt so far in the Intertown Twilight Baseball League’s championship series, but is sure has made for some pretty intense baseball games.

Games one and two of the best-of-five series between the Manchester Essex Mariners and the Hamilton Generals were both won by the Mariners, but by no means was either game in the bag before the final out was called. In fact, Manchester Essex had to rally to come back and win in both games, the first being a 4-2 win at home and the second being a 4-3 victory on the road.

The fact that both games have been dogfights should be no surprise, however. The Mariners and Generals have seen an awful lot of each other lately — both teams closed out their regular seasons with a three-game series against each other after playing each other the week before that. A few games later, and the two are at it again, albeit with bigger stakes involved.

“Guys have them fresh in their minds,” said Manchester Essex player/coach Bryan Lafata of seeing the Generals so much lately. “You can pick up on the other guy’s strengths and weaknesses, their tendencies, as opposed to playing someone the first week of the second half and not seeing them again until the finals. For both teams, it helps, and the scores reflect that. These games are not going to be shootouts unless the pitching or defense falls apart.”

And it’s once again the pitching and defense that have helped to bring the Mariners within one game of the ITL championship. Game three was scheduled for Wednesday night at Essex’s Memorial Field, with the series swinging back to Hamilton on Saturday should the Mariners lose.

“It’s definitely the same story as most of the season,” said Lafata. “Pitching and defense have kept us in it. In both games, we got behind early and came back to win, just like in game three against Rockport. We didn’t let the lead get to us, which is nice to see.”

Steve Stout started game one for the Mariners in Essex on Saturday, and Mike Gibbons was the winner a day later in Hamilton. Both pitchers were able to keep a strong Hamilton lineup in check and keep their team in the game until the end, when Mike Cain came in to pick up the save in both contests.

“Steve Stout was tremendous in game one, and Mike Gibbon was great in Hamilton,” said Lafata. “Both of them were out there in the seventh with the lead, because they kept their pitch counts down. Unfortunately, they couldn’t finish it, and Mike Cain came in during both games and got the save.”

Cain gives the Mariners an advantage few teams have in this league, a bona fide stopper who can throw a multitude of pitches for strikes.

“Mike gives us a luxury not many teams in the past have had,” Lafata said. “Mike pitched in college and he’s had some shoulder and arm problems, so we try to limit his innings. He’s got three or four quality pitches to throw, and it’s fine to have him come out for one inning and throw strikes for us. In this league, you depend too much on the starter, and if he doesn’t have it in the seventh, you win or lose with him.”

Another pitcher who has come through in clutch situations was slated to start on Wednesday: Jack Brancaleone. Brancaleone was on the mound last week when the Mariners clinched the deciding game three of their playoff series against Rockport. It’s just one more advantage the team has after building up momentum in the first two games.

“It’s a lot better being up 2-0 than down 0-2,” said Lafata. “Still, we know in this league it’s still far from over, and if we lose we’re going to have to go to their place, which is never easy.”