By: Aodhán Doyle
YARMOUTH, MA- They say history repeats itself, and on Monday evening at Red Wilson Field, baseball fans were getting a sense of déjà vu.
Just two days after witnessing the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox score five runs in the bottom of the ninth, capped off by a Carlos Cortes (South Carolina) three-run home run to beat the Brewster Whitecaps 8-5, the Whitecaps entered the ninth inning of a do-or-die game three leading 7-5.
Then, history started to repeat itself.
Down to their last strike, Y-D strung together a hit-by-pitch and a single to load the bases, before new Whitecaps reliever Ryan Cyr (Kansas) walked in a run. Then, Cyr uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Christian Koss (UC-Irvine) from third and tying the game.
For the second time in three days, Brewster had blown a ninth inning lead in Yarmouth, and for the second time in three days, Cortes stepped into the batters’ box with two outs, two runners on, and a chance to win the game.
Fate is a fickle thing, however, and this time, Cortes traded in the role of the hero for an inning ending groundout to first.
It was the break Brewster needed, and they capitalized.
With the score now 7-7, Red Sox reliever Riley McCauley (Michigan State) retired the first two batters in the top of the tenth and got ahead in the count to Brewster first baseman Zack Gahagan (UNC) 1-2. McCauley left a fastball over the plate, however, and Gahagan ripped it into left-center field for a single.
While two-out singles aren’t typically something to fret over, it set the stage for Brewster shortstop A.J. Graffanino (Washington), who took strike one and then roped a hanging breaking ball into the right-center field gap for an RBI-double, giving the Whitecaps an 8-7 edge.
“Just trying to put my best swing on the best pitch I could get,” said Graffanino about his approach.
“It was awesome. People don’t even realize Zack Gahagan probably had the biggest hit of the game,” said Whitecaps coach Jamie Shevchik. “Two-outs, we had just blew the lead, and he singles and scores from third on A.J.’s hit. He came off the bench. He sat there for seven or eight innings. I think that was one of the pivotal moments, but I think this was an amazing team effort and hopefully we can ride this into the next couple days.”
Cyr set down the Red Sox in order in the bottom of the tenth, getting a routine groundball off the bat of Luke Miller (Indiana) on the turf to Graffanino who threw on to Gahagan for the third out.
Game over. Series over. For the first time since their championship in 2000, the Brewster Whitecaps emerged victorious in a playoff series. For the first time since 2013, the Cape League will have a new king, as Y-D was the three-time defending champion.
“Incredible. Judging by the reaction of everyone that was here, it’s amazing,” said Shevchik. “That’s why we play the game and that’s stuff that we talked about in the beginning of the year—playing for people other than ourselves, the people out here, and today it paid off.”
“It feels good, especially with these guys,” Graffanino said. “These are some of my best friends and the coaches are awesome, the fans are great, and just the whole atmosphere is awesome.”
“It felt good because Y-D is such a good program and they’ve won it the past three years. I knew how bad our coaching staff and the other players wanted to win it.”
The ninth inning was just a continuation of what was already a back-and-forth battle, and entire series, frankly, between the two rivals in the decisive final game.
Miller struck first for Y-D, launching a solo home run to left-center on a first pitch fastball from Brewster starter Pauly Milto (Indiana) in the bottom of the second, but Brewster responded quickly.
After back-to-back walks, Marty Costes (Maryland) tied the game with an RBI-single to right in the top of the third. Then, after working the count full and fouling off two more pitches, Kyle Datres (UNC) lined a two-run double to left-center, scoring Costes and Mickey Gasper (Bryant) and giving the Whitecaps a 3-1 lead.
Y-D did not earn the second best regular season record in the league by going quietly, however.
Four straight baserunners, three singles and a walk, including a pinch-hit, game-tying, two-run single by Nick Quintana (Arizona) chased Milto from the game in the top of the fifth.
Zach Schneider (Florida Atlantic), making his first appearance in the series, showed some rust early, throwing his first two pitches in the dirt for wild pitches and allowing Drew Mendoza (Florida State) to score the go ahead run on the second.
Y-D added an insurance run on a single from Nico Hoerner (Stanford), making it a 5-3 game.
All season long, the Whitecaps had shown a knack for overcoming deficits. Early in the season, Brewster erased a 7-1 Y-D lead to force a tie. In arguably the game of the year for Brewster, Shevchik’s squad turned a 10-2 seventh inning Harwich Mariners lead into an 11-10 victory.
Monday was no different, with Brewster rallying once again in the seventh.
Nick Dunn (Maryland) doubled and eventually came around to score on a wild pitch, making it a one-run game.
His Maryland teammate Costes, however, who delivered time and time again for Brewster in big situations all season long, kept the trend going.
After falling behind 1-2, Costes annihilated a ball to straight-away center field for his first home run of the playoffs and tied the game at five.
Out of the eight Brewster runs on Monday, four came with two strikes and three came with two outs.
Brewster took the lead just one inning later, as Datres took the very first pitch of the top of the eighth and lifted it into the trees over the left-center field fence, putting Brewster back on top 6-5.
The home run came off McCauley, who was named the Cape League Co-Relief Pitcher of the Year and picked up the save in the CCBL All-Star Game. The Red Sox closer allowed four runs in 15 and two-thirds innings during the regular season. In his only postseason outing, the Whitecaps tagged him for three runs in three and one-third.
Brewster added another run in the top of the ninth on a Gasper single, giving the Whitecaps a 7-5 edge before Y-D tied it in the ninth.
Schneider was stellar in relief of Milto, spinning four and two-thirds innings and striking out five.
While the two runs in the ninth were charged to Schneider, the right-hander set a new game high in innings, having only thrown four or more twice at Polk State this year, and kept a deep Red Sox lineup at bay for much of the game.
“It was pretty wild,” Schneider said. “I definitely was having chills while I was throwing, but once I got in a groove, I knew what I was doing.”
“It was what we felt would be the best matchup with Y-D’s hitters,” Shevchik said about the duo of Schneider and Cyr in relief. “There’s a handful of guys we could’ve used, but we felt that Schneider and Cyr at the end were the best fit against the guys that were coming up in that lineup.”
Y-D’s pitching staff was put in a tough spot from the get-go. Tim Brennan (St. Joseph’s) was originally scheduled to start, but a late scratch gave the ball to Karl Kauffman (Michigan).
Kauffman lasted just two-plus innings and gave up three runs while walking four.
After a scoreless inning from Tommy Henry (Michigan), Y-D manager Scott Pickler gave the ball to Brendan Nail (Western Carolina).
Nail, who allowed just three runs in 26 regular season innings, gave up two runs in his only inning of work in game one on Saturday and allowed two more in three and two-thirds in game three.
The duo of Nail and McCauley, which baffled opposing hitters all season long, combined to allow five runs in seven innings in the most important game of the season.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Whitecaps move on to face the Orleans Firebirds, who defeated the Chatham Anglers 3-1 in their game three on Monday, in the Eastern Division Finals.
“Just keep the same grinding mentality,” said Shevchik about his team’s second round approach. “We’re never out of it, it doesn’t matter if we lose game one. I said that when we lost game one right here. That’s why it’s a best-of-three series, you still have to come back and beat us twice. For these guys to come back and win the next two, it doesn’t matter who we play.”
Game one is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m at Eldredge Park. Orleans won the season series 4-2.