Deric Fabian let out a couple of lengthy exhales.
The first came as he shrugged both shoulders and stepped toward the plate.
The second kickstarted a discreet, but routine, full-body rocking motion as Fabian steadied himself opposite Orleans reliever Nathan Ward.
Fabian swung on the second pitch he saw to deposit a deep shot to left-center field. The hit managed to clear the 350-foot fence at Eldredge Park, avoiding a leaping Firebird in the process.
“During the first at-bat I saw the pitcher really well,” Fabian said. “Going into my second at-bat I had confidence and just stayed in my approach, hit the ball and luckily enough he didn’t catch it out there.”
Equipped with an Angler on second base, Fabian’s two-run homer gave the Anglers a 5–3 lead in the top of the fourth inning. The slim cushion later increased by one to secure a Chatham win in its first road contest of the season at East Division rival Orleans.
“He gets a lot of hits with two strikes,” Chatham’s acting manager Marty Lees said of Fabian. “His two-strike approach is one of the better ones on our team. He spreads out, he shortens up and he hits line drives.”
Heavy rain on July 4 barred the two from their prior meeting, instead forcing a doubleheader on Friday. In the first of two seven-inning games, the A’s (10–20–2 East) utilized timely batting to cruise past the Firebirds (16–16–0 East) in a 6–3 win.
“We separated enough offensively,” Lees said. “Saw a couple things we’d like to clean up in the field that kind of carried on, but overall, good win.”
Chatham starter Gabe Davis relinquished a hit to Orleans’ leadoff batter, Jo Oyama, but induced consecutive pop-ups for a quick two outs in the bottom of the first. Oyama successfully stole second base, however, and advanced to third after Anglers catcher Jayden Melendez overthrew Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek in an effort to gun Oyama out.
Orleans’ Eddie Micheletti Jr. knocked in the game’s opening run by piping a liner to shallow left field which permitted Oyama to comfortably trot home.
“Gabe was a little change-up happy early,” Lees said. “He was throwing it to the wrong people. That was the first conversation I had when I went out there.”
Kyson Donahue needed just three pitches from Orleans’ starter Evan Truitt, in the top of the second inning, to lace Chatham’s first hit of the afternoon. The single marked Donahue’s fifth connection in three games but he was left stranded as Zach MacDonald and Aidan Meola both struck out.
Davis fanned three Firebirds to end the second frame. His eyes, concealed underneath the straight brim of a camouflage hat, communicated flawlessly with Melendez to perform a slew of confident deliveries.
“I told him [Davis] to establish the 95, 96 mile per hour fastball and then the changeup can work,” Lees said. “He immediately changed it and had a lot of success.”
Tyler Wulfert extended his hitting streak to five games when he belted a two-run single, a few paces away from Orleans right fielder Eddie King Jr., to make things 2–1. Nolan Schubart then rose a looping double to left, advancing Wulfert to third.
In his second at-bat, Donahue fouled twice to level the battle with Truitt at a 2–2 count.
Amid his recent success at the plate, Donahue voiced his effort of straightening out his barrel. Yet, he lifted a pop-up into the leather of Jack Penney, near the left-field foul line, for Chatham’s final out of the third frame.
Oyama began the bottom of the third tallying his first home run of the season off of Davis’ opening delivery. His shot cleared the short porch in right field, avoiding Wulfert in pursuit to knot the contest at two apiece.
Following Davis’ next two tosses, two more Firebirds singled to enter scoring position. A miscommunication in Chatham’s infield reluctantly juiced the bases.
Micheletti took a ball to center field but Chatham’s Zach MacDonald corralled the floater and quickly fired to Melendez, keeping Justin Rubin at third. A slow bouncer out of Brandon Stahlman was routinely snuffed out by Fabian but drove Rubin in to score, generating a 3–2 Firebird advantage.
Chatham tied the ballgame in the fourth inning, however, when Meola split a grounder to shallow center field. Then, Fabian’s homer helped create a 5–3 lead. Following a five-strikeout performance on the bump, Davis gave way to Zander Sechrist in the bottom of the fifth who eliminated Orleans’ offense 1–2–3.
“We felt like if we could get Gabe through four innings, that would be ideal,” Lees said. “Because their lineup is so left-handed we could then bring in Sechrist.”
Melendez watched intently as his high-riser sailed through an overcast backdrop. Lining the first-base dugout, every Angler meticulously tracked the ball’s trajectory.
Lees tiptoed out from behind his players and swerved to his left. He winced slightly as Micheletti raised a glove in left field but Melendez’s hit escaped the opposition’s leather for a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning.
Wearing a gleeful smile, Melendez slapped his hands together as he rounded the bases. The no-doubter was his first of the summer.
“He competes,” Lees said of Melendez. “We’ve got a nice 300-foot short porch in left field. He got the barrel where he wanted and elevated it.”
Entering the final two innings, the Firebirds continuously failed to take advantage of Chatham’s reliever. In the penultimate frame, Sechrist struck out Rubin after putouts by King and Fenwick Trimble.
Orleans’ third arm of the outing, Ryan Rissas, walked Meola in the top of the seventh frame to place an Angler on first and second base. Melendez showcased a disciplined eye to initially produce two balls but eventually flew out.
Sechrist readjusted his stance. He held an opportunity to retire Orleans’ side. Chatham possessed one out in the bottom of the seventh by way of a fly-out to center field.
The lefty threw toward Micheletti, who managed to make contact. But, the hit hurtled into Martin-Grudzielanek’s snug grasp who efficiently flipped a double-play, capping off a 6–3 Chatham win.
“I think the biggest thing this gives us is confidence going into the next game and the rest of the season,” Fabian said.