All roads led to picturesque Narrabundah Ball Park last Saturday as the Canberra Cavalry hosted the Melbourne Aces in a double header to close out their opening ABL four game series home stand.
Warm spring weather greeted fans and players as Canberra’s Korean import Myung-Ho Jin threw the first pitch at 4.00PM and promptly gave up two runs in his first inning of work courtesy of a towering Andrew Russell homer.
Jin however quickly settled and was soon engaged in a tight pitching duel with Melbourne’s Greg Wiltshire.
The offense from both teams struggled to get going with the Cavalry having to wait until the bottom of the fifth before getting their first runner aboard through a Michael Collins single.
Despite issuing a walk to Kyu-Hyun Moon, Wiltshire ended the threat and confirmed his dominance over Canberra by striking out Andrew Schmidt.
Under ABL rules the first game of a double header is played over seven innings and it was in the bottom of the sixth, with the Aces grimly hanging onto their two run lead, that Canberra had their best opportunity.
After Ian Choy had driven in Seung-Hwa Lee for the Cavalry’s first run, crowd favourite Didi Gregorius looked certain to score on Nick Kimpton’s double but slipped rounding third base.
In the ensuing pandemonium the popular shortstop was tagged out after team mate Choy had continued onto third base thus depriving Gregorius the safety of returning to the bag. Reliever Masumi Hoshino came on for Wiltshire and ended Canberra’s rally.
Melbourne tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh after Rinku Singh who had replaced Jin walked Itaru Hashimoto with the bases loaded.
After just on two hours of play Hoshino secured the save in the bottom of the seventh and with it Melbourne’s second victory of the season (notwithstanding that fielding error) had allowed two base runners. Wiltshire picked up the win and Jin took the loss.
The hour between games was filled with a softball match between local Canberra teams and a variety of fan-fest activities. What was intriguing was the opportunity to rub shoulders in the intimate and friendly environs of the ball park with the ABL players from both teams as they queued for food and refreshments along with the rest of us.
At 7.10PM and with the temperature falling, the second game was underway and what an exhibition it would be. Where pitchers had dominated the first, hitters teed off in the second.
A two out three run homer from Josh Davies saw the Aces on the board in the top of the first.
The Cavalry responded with one run in their half but it probably should have been more after they had loaded the bases with no outs. But in the second Canberra tied the scores after a single to Tom Vincent, a walk to Andrew Schmidt and a triple to Gregorius.
That was enough for Melbourne manager Phil Dale who pulled his starter Donavon Hendricks for reliever Brendan McDonald. Melbourne responded to the challenge with another three run inning in the third.
A walk, a single, a wild pitch and another single saw Canberra manager Steve Schrenk follow his opposite number’s lead and yank starter Michael Lennox for Mathew Fawcett.
Fawcett however was unable to completely prevent further damage as a Takahiro Ijuin double drove in two runs. Canberra came roaring back in the bottom with three runs of their own and after three completed innings scores were tied 6 apiece.
The Cavalry took their first lead in the series since Thursday night’s game one thanks to a two out two RBI single by Vincent in the fourth that had, in no small way, been assisted by two Melbourne errors.
Trailing by two going into the eighth Melbourne narrowed the gap to one after a Nathan Aron ground out scored Josh Davies from third.
Going into the last needing a run to stay alive, Justin Huber delivered for the Aces with a sac fly after Scott Wearne and Russell had singled.
Despite a Sung-Woo Jang single, Canberra was unable to score in the bottom and the game went into an extra innings.
After a scoreless tenth veteran pitcher Phil Brassington kept the Aces quiet in the eleventh. Errors had already been costly to Melbourne but now another one would lose them the game.
A two out walk to Donald Lutz followed by a Choy double gave Jang the opportunity to be a hero. His grounder to shortstop Matthew Lawman should have resulted in the third out, but Lawman mishandled and Jang beat out the throw allowing Lutz to score.
The Canberra players rushed to mob Jang relieved to get the win. After 3 hours and 41 minutes the home crowd relished in the heart stopping victory. In total ten hurlers came to the mound giving up a combined 17 runs on 23 hits.
We’d certainly got value for our $10 entry fee, over 5.5 hours of quality baseball and a grandstand finish entertaining the crowd of 1,215. A great family afternoon and evening of fun with plenty to keep us occupied.
Canberra’s next home series is against Adelaide with another double header on Saturday 4th December. I’m looking forward to another Cavalry charge.