Cutters’ 2018 season begins with a victory at home

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette The Williamsport Crosscutters’ Edwin Rodriguez dives back to first base on a pick off attempt against the State College Spikes on Friday at Bowman Field.

From the third-base coaching box, Pat Borders held two hands up in the air to stop Danny Mayer at second base. A leadoff double was more than good enough for the Williamsport Crosscutters’ manager in the seventh inning.

The only problem was Mayer didn’t stop at second base. He knew off the bat he had a shot to get three bases when he lined the ball to the right-center field gap. As he neared second base, Mayer’s read didn’t change and he charged past second base and headed for third.

The relay throw came in high and Mayer belly-flopped into the dirt at third base safely. Getting three bases changed the complexion of the seventh inning, forcing State College to pull the infield in with the game tied.

Two pitches later, Brayan Gonzalez rolled a single up the middle to score Mayer with the decisive run in the Crosscutters’ Opening Day 3-2 win over the Spikes at Bowman Field. Williamsport moved to 4-0 in season openers under Borders as Ethan Lindow pitched five quality innings and Randy Alcantara and Luis Ramirez combined for four shutout innings of relief.

“Honestly, it may not have been the smartest decision because you never want to make the first or third out at third,” Mayer said after a 3 for 3 night. “I felt good about it and I had a good read. A good throw probably gets me, but thankfully the throw was high and I was able to get in there.”

Mayer torched a 1-2 pitch from Gabe Gentner to open the bottom of the seventh inning and sent it on a line up the right-center alley. He knew it was destined to get to the wall, and he knew the Cutters would have a big advantage with a runner on third and nobody out as opposed to a runner on second and nobody out. So he was thinking three bases out of the box.

Borders was thinking a little bit differently. He knew a good relay was going to make for a bang-bang play at third base if Mayer tried to stretch it, so he was content with a leadoff double and threw up the stop sign. But the fourth-year Williamsport manager is also a proponent of his players being aggressive, even if it means making a mistake.

Both he and Mayer admitted after the game going for three wasn’t the smartest move. It was a teachable moment which still workout out in the Cutters’ favor.

“He pushed the envelope a little bit. Maybe it works at this level, but the higher the level that you go, you’re going to be out,” Borders said. “It’s a good learning experience for him. I think it changed the whole dynamics of the inning and of the game.”

“If I’m going to make mistakes, I want to make them aggressively rather than timidly,” Mayer said. “I definitely think it’s a big advantage to have a runner at third with nobody out. I knew I wanted to get to third and give our team a chance to go ahead there.”

The Cutters were in position to take the lead in the seventh inning because Julio Francisco had tied the game an inning earlier with his first professional home run. State College starting pitcher Franyel Casadilla cruised through the first five innings. The Venezuelan right-hander faced just one over the minimum through five innings despite allowing three hits.

Edwin Rodriguez put the leadoff runner on base for the Cutters for the third time in six innings when he flipped a base hit into left field. Casadilla got ahead of Francisco, the Cutters’ nine-hole hitter, pitching backward with off-speed stuff early.

But Francisco battled, laying off a pair of close pitches for balls and fouling off another pitch. When Casadilla center-cut the plate with a fastball up in the zone on a 2-2 pitch, Francisco jumped all over it. The 20-year-old Dominican is listed at 6-foot-1, 140 pounds and put every ounce of himself into the swing, launching the pitch into the Cutters’ bullpen beyond the left-field fence.

The home run traveled 408 feet with a 99 mph exit velocity. After recording 20 extra-base hits last year but no home runs, it took just two plate appearances this season for Francisco to get his first pro homer, and it tied the game at 2-2.

“That’s about as good as he can possibly hit a ball,” Borders said. “Surprisingly, he does have a little power, but I haven’t seen him hit a ball that far.”

“That was huge. Two strikes on him, too, and it was a big one to tie the game,” Mayer said. “Francisco did a great job to stay in that at-bat. I think everyone felt relieved to tie it up and get those two runs.”

Alcantara and Ramirez, both holdovers from last year’s team, made those three runs stand up with four stellar innings of relief. Borders could sense nervousness in the entire team before the game as most of the Cutters were playing under the lights and in front of fans for the first time.

So he and pitching coach Hector Berrios went with Alcantara and Ramirez last night knowing they’d be used to the setting, especially in what turned out to be a tight game. Ramirez, who recorded 11 saves last year for Williamsport, pitched a clean ninth for the save.

“They’ve both been in stressful situations,” Borders said. “I’m sure they still had nerves like you should. But it’s not like that kid that hasn’t pitched under the lights before.”

Lindow was perfect through his first three innings, picking up six groundball outs with his heavy sinker. He left some off-speed pitches up the in the zone in the fourth inning which the Spikes turned into two runs with a Brendan Donovan RBI triple and a Brady Whalen RBI double, but it was all Lindow gave up.

“I felt really good,” Lindow said. “I missed a couple pitches and they hit it around, but overall it was a pretty good outing.”