PITTSFIELD - Dan Palazzo is starting to get used to those shaving cream pies.
Palazzo hit a one-out, pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth inning scoring Dan Cellucci from second and giving the Suns a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Nashua Silver Knights on Sunday afternoon.
The hit earned him a pie in the face.
"Yeah, I'll take 'em," said Palazzo, after he wiped the shaving cream off his face.
Palazzo came up in the ninth inning after Cellucci hit a one-out double to right center, and brought the Suns shortstop home with the winning run to give the team its second four-game winning streak of the Futures League season. It also put the Suns into second place in the league's West Division. Zach Tower homered in the fourth for the Suns, the first Pittsfield player to go yard at Wahconah Park this year.
Nate Spielvogel (1-2) pitched a scoreless ninth inning to record his first win with the Suns. Three Pittsfield pitchers held Nashua scoreless over the final six innings.
"Four wins. We're playing well. Everything's getting smoothed out," said Palazzo. "We're getting good starting pitching, getting good bullpen [work] and playing good defense. That was the problem early in the season, we weren't playing good defense.
"We're getting timely hitting."
Palazzo's single was the timeliest of them all.
B.J. Bocchiccio grounded out to open the home ninth and Cellucci hit an 0-1 pitch from Eddie Dionne to right center.
The next hitter was Palazzo, who worked a 2-1 count before pouncing on what he called a "mistake" pitch from Dionne. Palazzo went the other way and as the ball hooked away from Nashua right fielder Matt Sanchez, Cellucci came around to score. Palazzo also had a walk-off hit and the pie that followed on June 12 in a win over Martha's Vineyard.
"With guys on base like that, right there I was looking for the first pitch and trying to get a pitch over the plate," said Palazzo, discussing his game plan when pinch hitting. "I took the first ball and was fortunate enough to get back into the count where I was able to get the hit."
Palazzo and the Suns might not have been in position to get the win were it not for the Pittsfield bullpen.
Manager Tom Conley had a tag-team plan going, with nothing but regular relievers going.
Perry Kulaga got the start, his first, and gave up a two-run home run to Guy Davidson in the third inning. Those were the only runs the Silver Knights scored in the game.
That's because middle reliever Oliver Collette was on his game from the start. Collette was coming off a performance where he gave up five runs (four earned) on five hits in three innings of a 11-10 loss at Martha's Vineyard. In three games, the right-hander from Springfield College had given up nine earned runs in 9 2/3 innings.
On Sunday, Collette was spot on from the beginning. He retired the first six Nashua hitters he faced and held the Silver Knights scoreless in four innings on just two hits. In doing so, Collette lowered his earned run average from 8.38 to 5.93. Everything went according to plan for Conley, who said he was especially pleased to see Collette get back in gear.
"The last time I pitched, I just didn't finish well. I wasn't spotting my fastball. Today, I just wanted to get out there, throw the first pitch into the zone and then be able to throw my off-speed," Collette said. "If I'm able to throw my off-speed, it's tough to hit."
What Collette did is perhaps the part of baseball that is least noticed. Middle relievers cannot win games, but they can lose them. By shutting the Silver Knights down, Collette set things up for the Pittsfield offense to tie the game with an unearned run in the eighth and win the game in the ninth.
"Those [kind of] games are 2-1 and you bring in the middle relief and it can really get out of hand," said Conley. "Their job is to come in and stop them. That's what they did."
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