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Chatham falls late to Orleans, stalling playoff push

by Chris Blake, 07-26-2022

Chatham falls late to Orleans, stalling playoff push

This late in the season, no teams can afford to give away games — especially not those scratching and clawing to make the playoffs like the Anglers.

Chatham’s once-dormant issue of blowing leads reared its head again Monday when the Anglers’ pitching broke down in the eighth inning, leading to a four-run frame for Orleans that sealed Chatham’s 5-2 loss at Eldredge Park.

The Anglers (11-19-7) had strung together scoreless innings for the first half of the contest, holding the Firebirds (14-19-4) hitless until Nik McClaughry drove a double out of Jake DeLeo’s diving reach in center field with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.

With Chuck Ingram coming around to score after drawing leadoff walks in the third and fifth innings, Chatham clung to a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the eighth.

Brian Holiday had retired all five batters he’d faced coming into the frame, but Luke Keaschall lofted a line drive into right field for a leadoff single and the Firebirds’ third hit of the contest.

After handling JD Urso’s sacrifice bunt and fanning Cam Jones on a high fastball, Holiday was one out away from escaping with the lead, but he didn’t get the chance. Instead, manager Tom Holliday called on Ben Hampton, who was tied for the league’s lead in strikeouts entering the game.

The decision quickly backfired. After getting ahead 1-2 on Isaac Humphrey in a left-on-left matchup, Hampton hit him three pitches pitches later.

“Honestly, I thought (Holiday) could’ve got (Humphrey) out. That kid’s given us trouble every time he’s got up to the plate,” catcher Jack Rubenstein said. “But with Ben Hampton coming in there, I was pretty confident. He’s been our guy all summer long.”

Garret Guillemette followed Humphrey with a line-drive single to left field, bringing Keaschall home to tie the game.

With two outs and runners on first and third, Drew Metzdorf — who was signed and activated Sunday — stepped in for his fourth at-bat of the season. He quickly became a hero, driving in two runs with a ground ball that stayed inside third base and skirted down the left field line for a double.

“I think (Holliday) and (pitching coach Dennis Cook) would’ve done that 10 times out of 10,” Orleans manager Kelly Nicholson said about Chatham’s decision to bring in Hampton. “Just because they didn’t get a good result doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right move. And I was with them one hundred percent on that.”

Tommy Hopfe put the game further out of reach for Chatham, lifting a fly ball to right field that curved toward the foul line but landed in fair ground for an RBI single.

Suddenly fighting to come back, the Anglers went down in order in the top of the ninth, ending the game with back-to-back strikeouts looking.

“It just showed a lot of character and a lot of desire tonight, I thought,” Nicholson said. “And it’s a very good group of young men who wanted to win tonight. You could tell. They got pretty fired up in the dugout, so it was cool.”

The intensity was warranted. Chatham came into Monday’s game one point behind Orleans for fourth in the East Division and a playoff spot, but the Firebirds’ win widened the gap to three points with seven games left in the regular season.