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Anglers tie Wareham, 4-4, in one-hit, 19-strikeout night

by Andrew Crane, 07-09-2021

Anglers tie Wareham, 4-4, in one-hit, 19-strikeout night

Chatham’s final swing, a final chance to turn one hit and 19 strikeouts into a win, came on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth. Lyle Miller-Green pumped his arms on the dugout fence and hoped it’d translate to Matt Hogan gripping his bat in the batter’s box. Tom Holliday leaned on the end of the dugout, his right hand perched on his right hip, watching as Wareham pitcher Ethan Chenault reared back and shook his head when he flung one final strike past Matt Hogan.

The Anglers had already swung and missed at Wareham pitches nearly two dozen times, struck out swinging at pitches outside of the zone nine times, Holliday said postgame, and didn’t earn a runner between the third and ninth innings. But Logan Britt had reached on a walk after falling behind 1-2, and then a chess game ensued. Josh Rivera emerged with a bat from the dugout to pinch hit for David Mendham against a Wareham left-hander, but the Gateman pitching coach then strolled out to the mound to make a pitching change — bringing in Chenault, a right-hander, which Holliday countered by sending in lefty Maxwell Romero Jr. to pinch hit.

Britt stole second on a 1-2 pitch, Romero Jr. drew a full-count walk and up strolled Hogan — the latest addition to the Chatham roster tasked with adding a spark, of any magnitude, to its offense. He took a first-pitch ball, then a second one, and that sent the Wareham pitching coach and catcher out to Chenault. Holliday walked out and directed Hogan during the meeting, telling him to not “take a fastball strike,” to “go get it,” to not turn the game over to the umpires and end a game defined by the Anglers’ strikeouts with another one. But the final strikeout, the 19th Chatham hitter to return to the dugout without contact, sent the Anglers toward their third tie of the season.

One hit — a third-inning grand slam — saved the Chatham offense in a game where it struck out 19 times, including seven in a row at one point, and allowed the Anglers to overcome two lost fly balls in the fifth inning and salvage a 4-4 tie against Wareham. The one hit was their fewest this season, the 19 strikeouts the most, and all of the season-long issues at the plate flashed across nine innings as Chatham’s struggle for a win continued.

“When you can't recognize a strike in the strike zone, hitting is impossible and that's what we're doing,” Holliday said. “We don't know a ball from a strike right now.”

But the one inning where the Anglers did score — and the ninth, when they came close again — reflected a strategy they’d tried to use all season. The message from Holliday on June 27’s lineup card was simple. He’d tried to instill it in his Chatham players for the first week of the season, as the hits disappeared after the season-opener and the strikeouts rose. Tucked in the top right corner of his Anglers-branded piece of paper, Holliday wrote “Good ‘At Bats’ — The Walk Is A Weapon” in all capital letters and underlined “walk” and “weapon,” the most important words, twice for emphasis.

Chatham only drew four walks that night, a loss to Harwich, but one in the first inning paired with two hit-by-pitches and laid the foundation for an Andrew Benefield grand slam. And nearly two weeks later, against the Gatemen at Veterans Field, Benefield drew a leadoff walk in the third inning and another four-pitch walk three batters later — this one for Matt Garcia, forcing a Wareham pitching change with one out — loaded the bases.

That’s when Lyle Miller-Green dug into the batter’s box and sent those productive at-bats, those moments of restraint that didn’t bail pitchers out when they were struggling, over the outfield fence. The home run broke a no-hitter and put the Anglers on top, and taking advantage of walks nearly won the game for them in the ninth when both runners reached base via free passes. But all of Chatham’s offense once again burst through in one swing.

“We don't understand the value of the walk,” Holliday said. “That's why we struck out so many times tonight.”

The Gatemen, though, used methodical, gradual approaches to manufacture their runs. The first two came in the third, minutes before Miller-Green’s grand slam, after Trevor Martin started to struggle after two dominant innings. Martin needed just eight pitches to breeze through the first inning, but then logged 49 across his final two. Throughout his 2021 Cape League season, he’s worked with pitching coach Dennis Cook on speeding up his windup tempo, creating more life on his fastball, staying in the strike zone longer, and trying to turn those improvements into longer outings.

He hit a batter in the second, then issued a leadoff walk in the third, and allowed his first hit when Cade Fergus turned on an inside pitch and ripped a hit down the left-field line. Tres Gonzalez, who’d opened the inning with a walk, stole third and scored when Fergus stole second and Chatham’s middle infield didn’t have enough time to turn a ground ball into a double play. Later in the inning, Owen Diodati laced a single with a full count and two outs that scored another Wareham runner.

“I felt good, just missed on a couple pitches and they got two hits in the third,” Martin said.

The Gatemen added two more in the fifth, when Fergus lifted a fly ball into shallow right-center field that Chatham’s shortstop, second baseman, center fielder and right fielder all emerged on but couldn’t catch — losing it in the lights and not recovering in time before Fergus cycled into third. Another triple followed, this one to right-center field, when Trenkle lost track of the ball again, as did Hogan before recovering to nearly make a catch by the wall. A ground ball to Miller-Green at first then scored the tying run.

The two miscues, not scored as errors because they didn’t touch gloves, wasted an otherwise strong outing from Cy Nielson that served as a rebound game from his previous two outings. His pitches were “electric,” Holliday said postgame, and he struck out the side in the sixth to lay the framework for Scoggins in the seventh.

Scoggins mowed through Wareham’s order like the Gateman’s pitching staff did to Chatham’s the entire night, not allowing a baserunner and striking out seven in just three innings of work. He used the deception caused by his arm angle to keep hitters off-guard, mixing his fastball and slider together and even dotting in a couple of split-finger changeups against righties — a pitch he doesn’t usually throw at all, he said. He shook catcher Dominic Tamez off when he called the outside fastball, then again for the slider, and, eventually, Tamez had to call exactly what Scoggins wanted: the split-finger.

“That's how I'm gonna make my money someday is getting lefties out,” Scoggins said. “But I did just as well against the righties today, which is good. I haven't done that since I've been up here.”

As Chatham’s relievers continued to cruise, though, its offense failed to capitalize — or even place runners on base to put themselves into a position to capitalize. Andrew Benefield’s ground out to the Wareham shortstop, ending the seventh, was Chatham’s first out recorded in play since Matt Hogan flew out for the second out in the fourth. After Dominic Tamez struck out to lead off their next at-bats in the eighth, third-base coach Randy Whisler and first-base coach Mickey Tettleton both stood with their hands on their hips, not filled with batting gloves and protective shields like they are when the Anglers’ offense clicks.

Jake DeLeo made hard contact to lead off the ninth, but it bounced right into the glove of Wareham’s third baseman. That brought up Miller-Green, the creator of Chatham’s only hit, its only source of life on offense, with a chance to again alter the game — this time for good — and tilt it in the Anglers’ favor when all the odds pointed against it. But after fouling off a second pitch, Miller-Green swung through an 89 mile-per-hour pitch, Chatham’s 18th of the game, and sent the game closer to its final deadlock.

“Normally the next day's a pretty easy day to make some corrections, but we'll see,” Holliday said. “We sure are hard to figure out.”