Thursday night was a good time for Williamsport manager Nelson Prada to get thrown out of a game, he admitted as much after the Crosscutters' 8-4 loss to Hudson Valley.
The Cutters again were listless in the early innings, lacking a spark of energy or fire, the same thing which cost it during a 7-3 loss Wednesday night to the Renegades in the series opener. So when an opportunity presented itself in the fourth inning last night, Prada took hold of it in epic fashion.
His fourth-inning ejection put a much-needed spark into the Williamsport offense as it scored three runs in the inning he was sent to the clubhouse. The spark was short-lived, though. Williamsport didn't score a run after its three-run outburst. In fact, it didn't get a runner on base after that inning.
But it was Prada's ejection by base umpire Dave Attridge and the subsequent ejections for Phillies minor league coordinator Andy Abad and pitcher Keivi Rojas which took center stage Thursday. It overshadowed Hudson Valley winnings its sixth consecutive game and improving to 12-3 on the road this year. It overshadowed the continued struggles of Williamsport losing for the sixth time in eight games.
Prada's ejection was born out of a call on a bang-bang pickoff play at second base which saw Williamsport designated hitter Andrew Knapp called out. The Cutters had just put runners on first and second base with one out trailing Hudson Valley, 5-1, and the pickoff play seemed to quell the rally.
And after Dylan Cozens walked on five pitches to put runners on first and second again, Prada shouted across the diamond to Attridge at his displeasure of the pickoff call and the opportunity it cost the Cutters' offense.
"I screamed at the guy, 'last call,'" Prada said. "He said, what did you say? I said, you heard me. He said, no what did you say? I said nice (expletive) call and he threw me out of the game. I yelled at him and we had a little discussion and I came back to the clubhouse."
The irritation for Prada was compounded by not only a call which he felt was blown by Attridge, but also that Attridge was yelling at Knapp to get off the field and Prada doesn't like when umpires yell at his players. So when Attridge finally threw Prada out of the game, the first-year Cutters manager went apoplectic.
Prada got into Attridge's face, screaming and pointing. Attridge then took off his hat and began barking back at Prada. He didn't try to walk away from the confrontation until home plate umpire Nate Caldwell started walking toward second base to get in the middle of Attridge and Prada. But as Attridge tried to retreat from the confrontation toward the outfield grass, Prada chased him.
It wasn't until Cutters hitting coach Lino Connell came out to the field that the situation was defused.
"For me, the umpires don't have to say anything back to the players, that's why (the coaches) are there," Prada said. "They can say different stuff. They can say that's enough and I don't want to talk about it with you, you're not the manager. That's what they're supposed to say, but sometimes they don't say that."
It sent some life through the crowd of less than 1,000 people at Bowman Field who stuck around through a nearly hour and a half rain delay at the onset of the game. It also struck a chord with Prada's players.
Gabriel Lino followed the ejection with a two-strike, two-out double off the left-center field wall to score Zach Green and Cozens. Logan Pierce followed with an RBI single to score Lino and cut the Cutters deficit to 5-4.
But two pitches later, Pierce was picked off first by Hudson Valley catcher Oscar Hernandez on a bang-bang play. It appeared Pierce got back to the base in time, but Attridge took a couple steps toward first before giving an emphatic first pump to signal Pierce was out.
During the change of the inning, Attridge ejected Abad who was sitting with other minor league coordinators and the Cutters coaching staff just outside the Williamsport dugout.
"We've been talking about these peaks and the teams feels tired. You want to spark the guys at some point. I think we did it," Prada said. "What really (ticked) me off is he missed the call and we walk and have an good opportunity with the bases loaded and one out. If the guy doesn't screw up (the Knapp pick off), then we tie the game and it's a different game. Then he throws the coordinator out, so he's just got a chip on his shoulder."
Williamsport had to dig its way out of a 5-0 hole in the first inning after the Renegades knocked around Cutters starting pitcher Mitch Gueller. Not only did they score five runs off Gueller, but the former supplemental first-round pick of the Phillies didn't record an out in the inning before he was lifted for a relief pitcher.
All six hitters Gueller faced reach base, and Gueller went to 3-0 counts on three of them. Two walks and a single loaded the bases in the first inning before Hernandez went down and golfed a breaking ball off the top of the wall in straightaway left field. As Samuel Hiciano waited for the ball to carom off the wall, it instead bounced over the wall for a grand slam.
It was the first of two home runs Thursday for Hernandez who tied the New York-Penn League lead with his sixth home run. He also pushed his RBI total to a NYPL-best 28.
Gueller followed the grand slam by allowing a double down the third-base line and a single to right field to put runners at the corners. Gueller was lifted after just 27 pitches. His ERA ballooned from 3.36 to 5.64 after allowing five earned runs without recording an out.
It was the first time since being drafted in 2012 that he has failed to go at least two innings in an appearance. And the only time in his brief career he's gone as few as two innings was in his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League last summer.
"I had a chat with him during the game since we were both in (the clubhouse). We'll see how it goes next time," Prada said. "Sometimes you have to tell the truth to the players and I asked him if he wanted to hear the truth and he said yeah and I told him the truth. But that's between me and him. But I think he's relaxing too much. He has to go out there and fight a little more.
Williamsport got a run back in the second inning when Green jumped all over a first-pitch fastball and deposited it beyond the left-center field wall for his fifth home run of the season. It was Green's first home run since June 25 against Batavia.
It was one of the three hits the Crosscutters had last night. But all three hits were run-scoring hits.
"I just look fastball. If he fools me, he fools me. But if he throws me that fastball, I'm doing my best to hit it hard," Green said. "It feels good to hit one into left-center. Anything you hit up there, you know you're doing a good job at the plate, so it definitely feels good to hit one to left-center."
But after the Williamsport explosion in the fourth inning, it failed to put another runner on first base. Hudson Valley starter Kevin Brandt and relievers Justin Choate and Anthony Tzamtzis combined for five perfect innings to close out the game, striking out seven over that time.
During those final five innings, the three Renegades pitchers went to a two-ball count just three times.
The only remaining drama came when Cutters reliever Rojas was ejected by Caldwell for hitting Hudson Valley three-hole hitter Ty Young in the hip with a 1-0 pitch with two outs in the eighth inning. Caldwell wasted no time in ejecting Rojas, either.
And it was only after Tyler Buckley came in to relieve Rojas that Caldwell issued a warning to both benches.
"They throw out Rojas just because he hit someone? Everybody hits someone," Prada said. "We're not trying to hit anybody. The game is still 8-4. We're still in the game."