No-hitter eludes Cutters on last out

Justin Parr ran back toward the left-field wall, ready to jump if there was anything he could do to prevent the baseball from flying over. Going back on the ball was more of a courtesy than anything, though. The ball was gone off the bat of Batavia’s Luis Ortiz.

With the solo home run, the only run of the night for Batavia, the life was sucked out of Bowman Field, but only for five more pitches. Ortiz’s ninth inning home run with two outs was the first hit Sunday night for the Muckdogs. It took Williamsport reliever Rob Marcello five more pitches to close out a 7-1 win for the Crosscutters, but their was an air of disappointment hovering over 87-year old Bowman Field despite the win.

As historic a minor league stadium as there is in the country, it hasn’t hosted a no-hitter since Henry Cabrera and Olivo Astacio combined to no-hit Batavia on the final day of the season in 2006. It had to settle for a one-hitter last night.

Drew Anderson threw six hitless innings innings in his second start and Lee Ridenhour was brilliant in his two innings of no-hit relief. Marcello retired the first two batters he faced in the ninth inning on three pitches with easy pop-ups on the infield before grooving a first-pitch fastball to Ortiz.

In 771 previous plate appearances in his minor league career prior to the ninth inning, Ortiz had hit just three home runs. And It was the deepest a Crosscutters pitching staff has taken a no-hitter at Bowman Field since Nick Hernandez came two outs shy in the nightcap of a July 13 doubleheader in 2009.

“What can you do? You want to go up there and grab the ball and bring it back,” said Cutters first baseman Logan Pierce who hit an inside-the-park home run in the eighth inning. “That’s a tough way for that to happen. They all pitched their tails off.”

“That was amazing,” said Williamsport manager Nelson Prada, who was the manager for the Beloit Snappers in 2010 when Dan Osterbrock threw a no-hitter.

Prada said catcher Gabriel Lino didn’t want to throw a first-pitch fastball to Ortiz, but Marcello, a 17th-round draft pick this year out of Appalachian State, wanted to go with the fastball. It was Ortiz’s first hit of the season.

“I told him you don’t let a reliever shake you off when you’ve got 8 2/3 of a no-hitter already,” Prada said. “The guy just came into the game, you don’t shake off your catcher. You got a guy who’s showing you what you’ve been doing. Why are you going to shake off. I have to talk to Marcello (Monday).”

Regardless of the near no-hitter, Williamsport put together its second consecutive solid game, a great sign after a rough first week of the New York-Penn League season. It was, obviously, the best pitching performance from the staff this season, and the offense scored six runs in the first inning to set the tone.

The pitchers, especially Anderson, seemed to respond to the early run support. Anderson, a 19-year old right-hander from Reno, rebounded from a rough first outing of the season where he allowed eight hits in 4 1/3 innings, by allowing just two baserunners over his six innings.

His six innings were the most from a Cutters starter this season. He threw 52 of his 85 pitches for strikes, and gave up just one hard-hit ball, a sinking liner to right-center field which Samuel Hiciano made a tremendous diving catch on, plucking the ball off the top of the grass.

Anderson retired the final 11 hitters he faced, and 18 of the final 19. Ridenhour retired all six batters he faced.

“That’s been one of our talks (with the pitchers) is to throw strikes,” Prada said. “I think (Saturday) we walked two and we win the game. (Sunday) we walk two and win the game. It’s been a lot better the last three games. We’re pounding the zone.”

It was easy to pound the strike zone after a six-run outburst in the first inning from the offense, which featured six hits and a costly throwing error from Batavia shortstop Javier Lopez. The Cutters loaded the bases with nobody out for Zach Green, maybe the hottest hitter in the New York-Penn League.

After waving at a first-pitch curveball, Green laid off two tough breaking balls before drilling a fastball up the left-center field alley to score Gustavo Martinez, Angelo Mora and Andrew Knapp. It was the ninth hit for Green and the eighth extra-base hit. The nine RBIs from the 19-year old third baseman lead the NYPL.

“The ball looks like (a football) to him,” Pierce said. “Him and Angelo, they’re crushing balls right now. They’re hot and hopefully they can stay hot.”

Green later scored on a wild pitch before Pierce (2 for 4, 2 runs, RBI) drove a ball to left-center for a double to re-start the rally. Hiciano followed with a walk before Justin Parr recorded the first of his two hits to score Pierce. Martinez followed with a ground-ball which Lopez bobbled and then threw wildly to first allowing Hiciano to score. It was the second hit of the inning for Martinez.

Williamsport forced Batavia starting pitcher Helpi Reyes to throw 39 pitches in the first inning. All six hits in the inning came with the Cutters either ahead or even in the count.

“One of the things our organization talks about is to hunt fastballs. Andy Tracy has been talking about it. Lino (Connell) and Shawn (Williams) are working hard with our hitters on that,” Prada said. “For the players to move from lower levels, you have to show you can hit fastballs. You can make adjustments with breaking pitches, but if you can hit 95 mile per hour fastballs, you can move all the way up.”

Williamsport never sent more than four batters to the plate after sending 11 in the first inning. Its only other run came when Pierce crushed a ball to right field in the eighth inning which appeared to hit the top of the wall and bounce back on the field. Muckdogs right fielder Ryan Aper didn’t see the ball come back on the field and began walking slowly toward the foul line.

Pierce was already touching third before Aper got to the ball to throw it in. He scored standing up without a throw. He said the members of the Crosscutters’ bullpen told him the ball hit a bar beyond the fence and bounced back and it should have been ruled a home run to begin with.

It was Pierce’s first professional home run.

“As soon as I look up, I see it come back in. I said there’s no way that ball didn’t go out,” Pierce said. “I get to first and (Williams) is telling me to go, go, go and I’m like, why? As soon as I hit it, I thought it was gone, but obviously not. That was probably the best swing I’ve taken all year.”