PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield Suns manager Tom Conley played triage baseball Sunday afternoon. It was successful enough that the Suns were a pitch away from possibly taking the first game of their Futures League playoff series with Worcester.
Instead, Jordan Berry hit the first pitch he saw from reliever Alex Lagos in the eighth inning into the left field bullpen, breaking a tie and helping send the West Division champion Bravehearts to an 8-4 win at Wahconah Park.
"It's just all hands on deck, for both teams really," said Conley. "They might have a little more pitching right now. But come this time, it's been such a long season and guys are dropping off, you're really down to the guys who care about baseball and want to be here.
"I'll take that any day."
Game two of the best-of-three series is tonight in Worcester.
Up until Berry's grand slam, the story of the day was the pitching of Pittsfield starter Mike Valentin Jr. Valentin is normally an outfielder and he threw two shutout innings last month in a blowout loss to Martha's Vineyard. Pressed into service, the right-hander gave up two unearned runs in the sixth inning. Valentin gave up four hits, walked three and struck out two. He also hit and went 2 for 2.
"At the beginning, yeah," said Valentin, when asked if he was nervous taking the hill. "Once I got on the mound, it was more like I just want to go out and compete, challenge everybody. I knew they were going to hit me, and I didn't care.
Three times, Valentin faced the minimum number of hitters in an inning and was one pitch away from getting out of the sixth without a run scoring. But after shortstop Dan Donahue made a two-out error and Mark DeYoung walked, reliever Lagos came in. Berry hit an 0-1 pitch to right, just past the diving Tad Martin at second, plating the two unearned runs.
"He really stepped up for them. I'll tell you what, he looks like a pitcher to me," Worcester manager Justin Edwards said of Valentin. "I couldn't tell the difference. He pitched a heck of a game for them. He competed his [butt] off. You like watching other guys when they compete."
Competing included an empty-the-benches melee in the fifth. Worcester's Ian Strom was tagged out by catcher Steve Dill trying to steal home. That led to some pushing and shoving. Both bullpens came in from the outfield and as a result of the contretemps, Strom and Pittsfield first baseman Brenden Geary were ejected.
Berry, who finished the day 2 for 5 with six RBI, put this game out of reach in the top of the eighth.
Lagos, who held the Bravehearts in check with a 1-2-3 seventh, loaded the bases on two infield singles and an intentional walk. The next batter was Berry and his fly ball just cleared the bullpen fence, which sent the Worcester bullpen celebrating and quieted the 1,621 at Wahconah Park.
"He's a sidearm guy. I think it was a fastball and it moved kind of weird because that's what sidearm guys do," said Berry. "I don't like falling behind in the count against these kind of guys, so I was sitting dead red fastball on the first pitch and he gave it to me and left it up a little bit."
Conley triaged his way into a first-inning run thanks to some nifty base running. Gary Tesch led off with a single and went to second when Donahue reached on an error. After Steve Dill forced Donahue at second and Tyler Bell struck out, Dill took off for second with Paul Cotler at the plate. Dill stopped halfway down to get caught in a rundown so Tesch could make a break for home. Tesch got out of his pickle and slid in safely for the first run.
Worcester starter Kyle Slinger and two relievers combined to hold the Suns to four runs on nine hits.
Pittsfield's Tad Martin hit a solo homer in the ninth, his first of 2014. It didn't change the outcome, but helped brighten spirits.
"It was a good slump buster," said Martin. "We're going to go out there and compete every day, go out there and battle until the game is over -- all nine innings."
Worcester 000 002 042 -- 8 11 3
Pittsfield 100 001 011 -- 4 9 1
Slinger (5 1/3), Butler (2 2/3), Dious (1) and Riccio. Valentin Jr. (5 2/3), Lagos (2 1/3), Reynolds (1) and Dill (5), Gardella (4). W--Butler (1-0). L--Lagos (0-1). 2B--W 3 (Ramage, McVicar, Lack). P 1 (Dill). HR--W 1 (Berry). P (Martin). A--1,621.
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