HARWICH –There was one out in the ninth inning and the bases were loaded when the call was made.
It was Game 2 of the Cape League’s East Division championship series, and Harwich closer Owen Coady was in the midst of battling Brewster’s No. 3 hitter, Zachary Neto, who fouled off the fourth and fifth pitches of his at-bat after the Mariners’ reliever from the University of Pennsylvania threw him a ball, followed by a called strike and a swinging strike.
While Neto dug into the batter’s box, Coady did the same against the rubber. With the count at 1-2, Coady lifted his right leg to begin his wind-up.
“That’s a balk!” screamed the second-base umpire as Coady delivered a curveball to home plate.
Coady immediately snapped his head around his right shoulder as the ball whizzed over the plate. He threw his arms by his side as he took a few steps toward second base, while Harwich center fielder Chris Newell (Virginia) looked on from the outfield with his arms raised above his head.
“Are you kidding me?” shouted one fan from the stands.
“Come on!” cried another.
Harwich manager Steve Englert left his dugout perch twice and walked to the third base line to shout at the umpire to no avail. The balk brought Mac Bingham — who entered the game earlier in the frame as a pinch runner for Will Simpson, the first runner to reach safely after hitting a one-out single — home to score.
The run quashed the game-tying three-run rally the Mariners manufactured one inning earlier and also gave the Whitecaps a 5-4 lead. Coady rebounded to get Neto to fly out to center for the second out of the inning before striking out Jake Thompson for the third.
Harwich’s last chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth quickly fizzled as Brewster reliever Dale Stanavich (Rutgers) got Zack Prajzner (Notre Dame), Jordan Beck (Tennessee) and Max Cotier (Virginia) to each strike out swinging to seal a 5-4 victory and a 2-0 series win for the visiting Whitecaps, who earned a spot to face the Bourne Braves in this week’s championship series.
“Mid-leg kick, to hear back from behind you … It’s tough,” Coady said after the game. “You wish you could appeal it, but you can’t. It’s a tough way to end the season for sure.”
The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever said he felt his delivery was consistent throughout the inning. He also noted that was the first time he was called for a balk this summer.
“I do the same thing every pitch,” said Coady, a native of Larchmont, N.Y. “I didn’t change on that one, that’s for sure. I threw him a curveball — it was the first curveball of the at-bat. I wasn’t trying to rush him, I wasn’t trying to quick-pitch him. You can’t argue with a call — he’s allowed to make his calls, but you can definitely disagree with it.”
Englert wasn’t interested in dissecting the play after the game.
“It’s absurd,” the manager said when asked what he saw. “I don’t even want to bring it up.”
The heartbreak came after Harwich overcame a 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth. The rally began with a sacrifice fly by Dylan Phillips (Kansas State) that plated Newell and cut Brewster’s lead to 4-2.
Facing a 2-0 count with Tatem Levins at second base and league MVP Brock Wilken at first, Harwich designated hitter Carter Putz (Notre Dame) launched a drive into the left-center field gap to plate both runners and tie the game at 4.
Putz was ultimately thrown out at third for the second out of the frame after he tried to stretch his double into a triple, but the Whitehouse Field crowd wasn’t bothered a bit — his game-tying hit sent the ballpark into a frenzy.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and put a nice easy swing on it,” Putz said. “I got into a hitter’s count, 2-0, and he threw another fastball. He was pretty heavy on his tendencies with the fastball, especially behind in the count. I just put a good swing on it and it worked out for us, but we fell short in the end.”
Putz’s heroics provided the Mariners with momentum for the first time in the series. Harwich suffered a 2-0 loss in Game 1 at Brewster on Friday despite recording 10 hits in the game.
“That’s tough to do — not score when you have 10 hits,” Englert said after Friday’s tilt. After dropping Game 2, the skipper said Brewster is a scrappy team.
“They are a good team. They grind out at-bats and pitch it well,” he said Saturday. “There’s a reason they’re in first place, but we had several opportunities [Friday] — we left 12 guys on and couldn’t get a hit with a guy in scoring position. I think five times we had second and third and couldn’t scratch one across. Tonight, we finally opened it up and had a big inning to tie the game and then they just bounced back —they’re a scrappy team.”
Brewster defeated both of Harwich’s top starting pitchers to advance to the championship, upending the league’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, Trey Dombroski (Monomouth), in the first game before chasing starter Eric Reyzelman (Louisiana State) on Saturday.
Even though the Whitecaps had the Mariners’ number throughout the season — Brewster went 4-1 in the teams’ five regular-season meetings before winning both postseason contests — Harwich’s coaching staff and players felt their group was talented enough to capture a championship.
“We all thought and knew that we could’ve went all the way,” Putz said. “And when you grow close with all these guys, it’s hard to see everybody go. We wanted it to end in a couple more days and ultimately with a championship, but I’m just super grateful that I got to meet everybody and become friends with all these guys and experience this league.”
Email Brad Joyal at email@example.com. Twitter: @BradJoyal
*Editor's Note: Video of the controversial balk call can be seen on the Cape Cod Chronicle Facebook page.