by Eric Adler
HARWICH — The game played between the Harwich Mariners and Bourne Braves on a gray and gloomy evening last Thursday went down in the record books as a 9-3 victory for the Mariners
Harwich first baseman Alex Avila guides the ball into his glove as Y-D’s Gordan Beckham dives back to the base in the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Mariners on Monday. Last place Harwich is now 19 points out of first place. ERIC ADLER PHOTO.
The box score showed that J.T. Wise went 4-for-4, Cole Figueroa drove in three runs, and starter Dan Hudson struck out eight over seven innings to improve to 2-2 before a crowd of 719 fans at Whitehouse Field.
But this was no ordinary win for Harwich.
It gave the Mariners a small taste of success against the team which stands atop the West Division and a large measure of revenge against the club that handed them their worst defeat, 10-1, during their infamous nine-game losing streak.
It was, in other words, exactly what the struggling Mariners needed, and ostensibly the first big step toward climbing out of the basement of the East Division, which is where they’ve sat since opening week.
“If we keep playing the way we have the last couple of games, we can rip off five or six wins in a row and get right back into the race,” said Harwich Mariners Field Manager Steve Englert, whose team, at 7-15, trailed East Division leader Y-D by 19 points and wild card front-runner Brewster by 11 points at the beginning of this week. “There’s no way we should have the record we have right now.”
A number of factors contributed to the Mariners’ sub par start, beginning with injuries to starting pitchers Scott Barnes and Sean Black, who both played sparingly before packing their suitcases and heading home.
“Those guys were two key cogs in our rotation, and when they left, it forced us to put different guys in different situations,” Englert said. “Middle relievers became starters and closers became middle relievers.”
It didn’t help matters that many who toed the mound to begin a game were prematurely chased from it.
In those situations, “we were forced to burn our middle and late-inning relievers for three innings,” said Englert. “Guys who normally pitched the eighth pitched the fifth, sixth and seventh, and as a result, our bullpen became very thin. Thrusting guys into different roles was the biggest reason for that losing streak.”
Harwich also committed 15 errors during their June 22 to July 1 nose-dive, and were out-scored 64-23.
What made the Mariners’ slump most frustrating for Englert is that he changed his recruiting strategy to avoid a repeat of last year’s rocky start, in which Harwich, with
nearly as many temporary players (11) as contract players, got off to a 5-9 start.
“We set it up this year so that nearly everyone was here from the start,” the fifth-year Mariners skipper said. “We didn’t have any guys in the college world series and made sure not to take more than two kids from each school (after four UNC players showed up late last summer). We got off to a 2-0 start. Then the wheels came off.”
The Mariners finally put an end to their spiral last Tuesday when Brett Jacobson silenced Brewster’s bats for seven scoreless innings in a 2-0 win over the Whitecaps.
Harwich strung together back-to-back wins later in the week (only the second time they’ve won consecutive games this season), beginning with the aforementioned rout of Bourne, followed by a 1-0 win over Wareham on Friday.
In the latter contest, Corey Young yielded five hits over seven-and-two-third scoreless innings, and Steve Strausbaugh drove in the only run the Mariners needed in the first frame.
Strausbaugh played an even bigger role Sunday night, singling in the winning run with two outs and two strikes on him in Harwich’s come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Falmouth Commodores.
The win was Harwich’s third in its last four games, and avenged a 4-3 loss to Falmouth four days earlier, in which the Commodores scored three in the ninth to steal a victory.
“We really needed that win, especially coming off a loss to Chatham the night before,” said Strausbaugh, whose walk-off single to shallow centerfield scored Kyle Day from second. “We had that big nine-game losing streak and didn’t want to start another one. Everybody is starting to hit the ball well and our pitching is coming along too. We’re beginning to put things together as a team.”
A harsh dose or reality set in on Monday, however, as Harwich came out on the short end of a 6-2 loss to Y-D in a battle between East Division polar opposites.
The red-hot hitting Red Sox slugged three of their league-high 18 home runs and pulled away late after Cole Figueroa and Alex Avila drove in back-to-back runs to cut the lead to 3-2 in the fifth.
“Right now we’re not worried about wins and losses,” said Englert. “We want good approaches at the plate and want to keeping banging away. In the past we’ve lost seven or eight in a row, then won seven or eight in a row. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible to do that in this league.”
Certainly not with Figueroa in the line up. The Florida Freshman, who began the season on an 11-game hitting streak, including a 4-for-5 effort against Cotuit, has been Harwich’s most accomplished hitter thus far, and a shoe-in to make the CCBL All-Star team.
Figueroa is hitting a team-best .324 (sixth best among all Cape Leaguers) and leads the Mariners with a .432 on-base percentage and .412 slugging percentage. He’s also fairing better than his twin brother Correy, who’s batting .233 for Cotuit.
Offensively, Strausbaugh, who helped Y-D win the Cape League championship last season, is also playing a key role, hitting .276 with a team-best 13 RBIs. Wise (.282), and Kyle Day (.253) have also been swinging the stick well, as have Avila and Johnny Giavotella, who together have driven in 15 runs.
On the hill, Hudson has made a big impact, logging 29 strikeouts (fifth best among all Cape Leaguer hurlers), in 22 and one-third innings. Young (2-0), a complementary starter, sports a 1.71 ERA, and starter-turned-reliever Evan Crawford (0.56 ERA) has been virtually untouchable, allowing just one earned run in 16 innings.
Harwich, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1997 nor won the Cape League championship since 1987, is hoping to translate those kind of high-caliber outings into wins. It certainly won’t be easy with five of the next six games against top tier teams, but the Mariners know they can’t afford to sustain another protracted losing streak – as do their supporters.
Prior to Thursday’s game, the lights on the Whitehouse Field scoreboard spelled out a familiar sports slogan: “Just win, baby.”
For the Mariners, that’s exactly what it’s going to take to get back into the race.
by Eric Adler