30 June 2006

Cardinals fly to top perch in East

The Orleans Cardinals' bats finally woke up Wednesday night, in the rain of all things, as they pounded out 13 hits and beat Hyannis 11-2 in eight innings.

The first four Cardinals all hit safely to get the attack started, and catcher Matt Wieters of Georgia Tech, playing his third game for Orleans, belted a team's first home run of the year, a two-run shot to left in the eighth. Second baseman Josh Satin of the University of California had four hits, including two doubles.

Orleans had done pretty well to start the season, despite not getting much production. The Cards are 7-4 and in first place in the East with 14 points as the Cape League season hits the one-quarter mark.

"I really like our guys," said manager Kelly Nicholson. "They're quality and good players. For most teams, the first two or three weeks are pretty pitching-dominated."

The Cardinals managed only 27 runs in their first 10 games and were perpetually stuck in low-scoring battles, but excellent clutch pitching kept them above water.

The Cardinals team ERA is a nifty 2.94, despite a disastrous 17-1 rout in Cotuit June 21, where 16 of the runs were earned and 14 came in one inning. Without that fiasco, the Cardinals' ERA drops to 1.68.

"I've never seen anything like it, but that was a long time ago and we've forgotten about it," Nicholson said.

Orleans got more excellent pitching when they nipped Chatham 2-1 in 11 innings at home on Monday. Chatham was 5-1 at the time.

"I think any time you have an 11-inning game and give up one run, you'll win a lot of games," Nicholson said. "I thought Ryan Pond threw really well tonight. And Brett Cecil and John Goodman did the job."

Pond, who has also been a regular outfielder for Orleans, pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He struck out seven, and the lone run scored on an error - a low throw to first. He's also batting .233 with seven hits in 30 at bats.

"He swings the bat well," Nicholson said.

Pond plays for North Carolina State and is from Chesapeake, Va.

"I was mainly a position player in college. Towards the end of the year they started using me as a pitcher," he said. "I came up here mainly as a pitcher, but I've started in the outfield, DH'd and I play first. It's a little difficult, but it's what I've done my whole life, so I'm kind of used to it now."

While pitchers in the Cape League rarely play in the field, it's almost unheard-of for one to also be an everyday player as well as a starting pitcher.

"Tonight, I didn't have my good fastball and my curveball was nonexistent," Pond said. "But I had good feel for my changeup and I let the defense play. I worked both ends of the plate, inside, outside. They're just getting used to the wood bats."

Pond has an 0.71 ERA in his two starts, and is looking forward to working a lot on the mound.

'I hadn't pitched a whole lot of innings in college, but I felt good my first two starts (here)," he said. "I just want to throw strikes and have victories and have a good summer."

The Cardinals' relievers lived dangerously against Chatham, loading the bases in the seventh, eighth and 10th and putting two men on in the 11th. But when they needed a big pitch, they got it.

Goodman induced Adam Ortiz to bounce to short to end the seventh. Brock Baber (University of Kentucky) whiffed Dave Williams with the bases full in the eighth. Cecil pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and then got Williams to fly out to right with three men on in the 11th. Winning pitcher Trey Martin of Tulane got Danny Espinosa (a .375 hitter) to ground into a 1-6-3 double play to end the 11th.

"I was a closer at Maryland, and I wanted to close for the summer," Cecil said. "I didn't get to do that today but I like being here for summer ball."

Cecil has given up only one run in nine innings this year and has two saves. He likes the low-scoring games.

"I was happy to see that. This is a clutch situation for all pitchers," he said. "It tests them real well, how well they do under pressure. I can definitely pitch more aggressively against the wood bats. You go inside and they break, while with the metal, you may get a bloop hit over third."

Cecil is a 6-foot, 3-inch, 240-pound hard thrower.

"My first goal is to make the all-star team, and to have an ERA below 1.50," he said. "Other than that, I want to have fun."

Orleans got its two Georgia Tech men (Wieters and Goodman) Monday and was still awaiting 6-foot, 10-inch pitcher Andrew Brackman from N.C. State, as well as a couple other possible arrivals.

Satin leads the Cards with a .333 average (13 for 39), eight runs scored, five doubles and 11 RBI.

"Josh Satin is hitting well," Nicholson said. "Mark Hallberg (Illinois-Chicago) is hitting the ball well (.238, 6 RBI) and Matt Wieters has hit the ball well."

Wieters, a 6-foot, 4-inch catcher, is also hitting .333 in 12 at bats.

By Rich Eldred/ reldred@cnc.com