By: Aodhán Doyle
ORLEANS, MA- At 9:09 p.m. on Thursday, cheers rang out, fists were pumped, hugs were exchanged, and a seventeen-year streak was broken.
For the first time since 2000, the Brewster Whitecaps became Eastern Division champions, securing a berth in the Cape League Championship with a 2-1 victory over the Orleans Firebirds at Eldredge Park.
It was the second consecutive series in which Brewster lost game one before rattling off back-to-back victories while facing elimination. Perhaps even more impressive, both game threes were on the road and both series were against the top two teams in the entire league.
“It’s a resilient bunch,” said Whitecaps left fielder Marty Costes (Maryland). “We’re coached by a resilient coach in Shev. He has that attitude where we’re looking to win every game. He said it after we lost the first one, all we have to do is win two, so I believe in it.”
“In the beginning of the year, half of these guys had no idea what the Brewster Whitecaps were about,” said Whitecaps coach Jamie Shevchik. “To them, it was just another team in the Cape League. As the postseason has gone on, these guys have realized that it’s a lot more important than just playing summer baseball on the Cape. You can look at the crowd here. There’s a lot of people here that are supporting this team and our guys are feeding off that. So, I remember a long time ago when we said, ‘play for something other than yourselves’ and I think they’re doing that right now.”
In the biggest game of their season thus far, the Whitecaps turned to the unlikeliest of heroes.
Conor McNamara (Marist) pitched in the Hamptons League on July 26th, was signed by the Whitecaps on the 27th, and threw just over five regular season innings for Brewster, not once starting a game.
“I never imagined I was going to be out in the Cape,” said McNamara. “It’s just a great experience. Take it and run with it, you know?”
But in a do-or-die game three with a trip to the league’s championship series on the line, McNamara made his first Cape League start and permanently etched his name into the league’s storied history.
“After that, I know I belong here,” said McNamara. “Just that, I belong here.”
McNamara got Lars Nootbaar (Southern California) to fly out to center field, ending the seventh inning, and walked off the mound in Orleans to the embrace of his teammates after allowing just one run on four hits in seven frames.
“I was hitting spots,” McNamara said. “My changeup was working. Just stay out of the middle of the plate and you’ll be fine.”
“Credit to McNamara, who was pitching in the Hamptons League two weeks ago, to come out here and give us seven innings was unbelievable,” Shevchik said.
The last time Brewster beat Orleans in a playoff series before Thursday (1994), not a single player on either of the team’s roster had been born and the two teams’ starting first basemen were former MLB All-Stars Sean Casey (Brewster) and Todd Helton (Orleans).
When McNamara exited, however, the game was still tied at one.
That changed the very next inning.
Orleans’ closer Josh Hiatt (UNC) jogged in from the bullpen in right field with the mission of navigating the top of Brewster’s lineup in a game where one straight fastball or one hanging breaking ball could potentially end the team’s season.
Hiatt, who picked up the save in game one of the series and had allowed just three baserunners in four appearances against the Whitecaps in 2017, retired Nick Dunn (Maryland) and Mickey Gasper (Bryant) for the first two outs of the inning.
Then, Costes dug in, tightened his batting gloves, and like he has time-and-time again throughout the season, delivered a big hit when the Whitecaps needed him most.
The Brewster left fielder lined his second home run of the postseason, a no doubter to left field, breaking the 1-1 tie, and causing a joyous explosion of epic proportions in the Whitecaps dugout.
“I was just trying to get on base,” Costes said. “I knew he was a good pitcher, I’ve always seen how he mows guys up-and-down, but I just kept my confidence, though. I felt like I was on the ball last at-bat. I think that at that point in the game, I just needed to take a deep breath and enjoy the atmosphere. I just got lucky at that point.”
“He’s got his own hashtag,” Shevchik laughed. “Anybody who’s got their own hashtag, #MartyParty, I don’t know if it’s a surprise anymore. The kid’s a player and I think all of our guys are just so loose and so laid back. If you win, you move on, and if you lose, their team was supposed to win, and that was the mentality.”
It sent shockwaves through the crowd at Eldredge Park and in a game where runs were at a premium, was a crushing blow to the number-one seeded Firebirds.
“It wouldn’t happen without all the guys on the team playing so hard,” Costes said about his timely hitting. “I think Kyle Datres with his home run was very clutch and Will coming in in that situation, you know, it was so dramatic out there, each pitch I was holding my breath. This is as good as it gets right now.”
After Costes’ home run gave Brewster the lead, Will Tribucher (Michigan) relieved McNamara, looking to close the door and send the Whitecaps to the final round.
Tribucher did so emphatically with two perfect innings, including striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth.
The Brewster southpaw had a 2-2 count on Orleans number-four hitter Stephen Scott (Vanderbilt), who is known for his power after winning this year’s Cape League Home Run Derby and had a chance to tie the game with one swing, but reared back and blew a fastball right past him for strike three.
“We were debating whether we wanted to put [Tribucher] in the game at all, so for him to come in and shut the door for two innings, you see the crowd here, it’s absolutely amazing,” Shevchik said.
Tribucher earned his first save, while McNamara picked up the victory in the series-clincher.
Orleans got out to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a run-scoring double play, but once McNamara settled in, the Firebirds were held to just two hits over the next eight innings.
Costes hasn’t been the only Whitecap to have a knack for coming through in the clutch this season.
Kyle Datres (UNC) homered with one out in the top of the fourth inning to tie the game at one, his second home run and sixth run batted in of the postseason. Datres and Costes are tied for the team lead in both categories.
It was the second consecutive game in which Brewster relied on the long ball to produce offensively.
In game two, four of Brewster’s eight runs came on three different home runs and both runs on Thursday were solo home runs.
Despite the loss, Orleans received stellar pitching from the trio of Taylor Sugg (UNC), Jake Wong (Grand Canyon), and Hiatt.
Sugg allowed just one run over five innings, before turning the ball over to Wong, who held Brewster hitless over two frames.
After committing three errors in each of the first two games, Brewster recorded a clean defensive game for the first time this postseason.
In their four victories this postseason, the Whitecaps have had four different pitchers, McNamara, Tribucher, Joe DeMers (Washington), and Ryan Cyr (Kansas), emerge victorious. At the beginning of the season, all of them were either not on the roster, or on a temporary contract.
WHAT’S NEXT: It’s a battle of three-seeds for the Cape Cod League Championship. Brewster now faces the Bourne Braves in a best-of-three series.
“Going into tomorrow, I think it flip flops a little bit, I think we’ve got the upper hand,” Shevchik said. “So, I think we’ve still got to keep the momentum going a little bit and keep the same mindset that we’re never out of a baseball game.”
The Whitecaps have home field advantage, with game one coming up on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.