Drew Anderson called the fifth inning the toughest inning for a starting pitcher to get through. It's the money inning, the one which decides whether or not he's eligible to pick up a win.
It's been a bugaboo for Anderson this year. The Williamsport pitcher has gone at least five innings in eight of his nine starts this year, but the fifth inning has been the toughest on the 19-year old, who has posted an ERA over 7.00 in the fifth inning this year.
He conquered it Tuesday night against Brooklyn, leaving a runner stranded on second base. He then struck out the side in the sixth inning, completed a scoreless, two-hit outing which helped the Crosscutters snap a four-game losing streak with a 1-0 win over the Cyclones at Bowman Field.
Gustavo Martinez of Williamsport is congratulated by first base coach Shawn Williams after hitting a single in the third inning Tuesday at Bowman Field.
Anderson improved to 4-2 this year as he, Mark Meadors and Tyler Buckley combined on the three-hit shutout. It was the first shutout of the year for the Cutters.
"Everybody tries to get through the fifth inning because it's the big one," Anderson said. "I think it's the hardest one to get through. It was huge to grind through it."
It was the second consecutive scoreless outing for Anderson, who hasn't allowed a run in 14 consecutive innings. It was also his second scoreless outing at home this year. The other came on June 23 when he and two relievers came within one out of no-hitting Batavia.
The shutout couldn't have come at a better time. With a struggling offense which scored its only run last night on a ground-ball double play, it didn't provide the pitching staff with much wiggle room.
But Anderson, Meadors and Buckley responded, facing four or fewer batters in eight of nine innings. Just one Cyclones baserunner reached third base and that was Patrick Biondi in the top of the ninth inning. But Buckley struck out Brooklyn's third and fourth hitters to earn his second save of the season.
Buckley's ERA fell to a team-best 1.04.
"I just told (pitching coach Les Lancaster), sometimes you have to throw a shutout to win a game," Cutters manager Nelson Prada said. "It was a great performance by Anderson. Meadors was really good, and Buckley was good, too."
But it's what Prada and the rest of the Cutters have come to expect from Anderson. The 21st-round pick in last year's draft has allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his nine starts this year.
In his last four outings combined, Anderson has allowed just three runs. His 47 1/3 innings pitched this year leads the New York-Penn League. He's failed to complete five innings just once this year, and that came in his first start of the year against State College.
"Even in extended he was really good," Cutters outfielder Jiandido Tromp said. "When he first came here, I knew he would do good, and now you can see he's getting better."
Anderson pitched to contact last night, getting Brooklyn players to put the pitches he wanted into play. He allowed just two hits, a humpback liner by Jared King to left field which split shortstop Malquin Canelo and third baseman Zach Green, and a leadoff single to center field from Alex Sanchez in the fifth inning.
King was erased on a beauty of a double play turned by Sam Dove and Canelo, and Sanchez was thrown out on a fielder's choice. Anderson faced just three batters in three of his six innings, including the sixth inning in which he struck out the side. They were his only three strikeouts.
Anderson threw 45 of his 73 pitches (62 percent) for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of 21 batters he faced. His only trouble came in the third inning when he walked two with two outs. But he got 2012 12th overall pick Gavin Cecchini to pop out on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.
"I love pitching to contact. One pitch and one out," Anderson said. "Everybody wants to go as deep as they can. Just let them hit it and see where it goes."
"The way he pitches, the presence he has on the mound, I expect him to have a good outing out there every time," Prada said. "All of his outings this year he hasn't allowed more than three runs. He's given us nine quality starts in a row."
The Cutters offense took a step toward breaking out of their funk last night, recording seven hits, all of which came in the first four innings. But they were just 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position, and the one hit - a single by Tromp - didn't score a run.
Williamsport stranded nine runners on base, six in scoring position. And six of the team's 12 strikeouts came with runners in scoring position.
The Crosscutters wasted a golden scoring chance in the third inning when Gustavo Martinez (2 for 4) and Justin Parr (1 for 3) led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Brooklyn starter Seth Lugo wiggled out of the first-and-third, no-out jam by striking out Andrew Knapp, Zach Green and Gabriel Lino in succession to end the inning.
Lugo struck out nine in his five innings.
"We really only hit for (four) innings because we had 12 strikeouts," Prada said. "The other innings we don't put any pressure on the other club because we struck out so much."
Logan Pierce (2 for 3) led off the fourth with a double off the wall in right field, and Tromp (2 for 4) followed with a single to right field to put runners on the corners. Sam Dove grounded into a tailor-made 4-6-3 double play, but it was enough to score Pierce and give the Cutters the eventual winning run.
"That's all we got today, but that's how we have to win games until the bats come around," Tromp said. "All that matters is you score. Just hit it in the field and see what happens."
"When you've lost four in a row, you want to win a game, whatever it takes," Prada said. "That's what today was. Whatever it takes. For the club it's good to win a game."