Pittsfield fades out of Futures League playoffs with loss to Worcester
WORCESTER — With the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic blaring out of the Hanover Insurance Park speakers, the Pittsfield Suns quietly changed clothes and boarded their bus for the final time.
It was closing time for the 2019 Suns season, in the Wild Card round of the Futures League playoffs. Host Worcester scored two runs in the first inning while Angelo Baez and two relievers held the Suns to four hits in a 10-1 victory on Monday night.
"Just improvement and better competition," Suns outfielder Jack Cooney said, when asked what he took out of the season. "You get to just meet a whole bunch of people from all over the country. We had a good group, and it was making memories with the people you play with."
Pittsfield was shut out for 8 and 2/3 innings, until Futures League home run champion Jackson Petersen hit one over the wall in right-center field off of reliever Jack Moynihan. Petersen led the league with nine homers, and he was the first Pittsfield player to lead the league in a category when the season ended.
It was the third straight season the Suns had been eliminated in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
It was however, the most successful on-the-field season for the Suns, who set a club record with 28 wins. They finished over .500 for the first time since their inaugural season back in 2012. That year, however, the team did not make the playoffs.
For some of the Suns, it was a new experience playing in the Futures League. While playing in the league was new for outfielder Dom Hughes, his older brothers Thomas and Hal both wore Suns uniforms.
"I came here with pretty high expectations," Hughes said. "I left here with friends I'll have for the rest of my life."
Unlike the other newcomers, Hughes had an idea of what to expect in Pittsfield and the league.
"They told me it was the best summer they've ever had, and it definitely was for me too," Dom Hughes said. "The people [in Pittsfield] were awesome. The environment at Wahconah was amazing.
"It was everything I could have hoped for."
Unfortunately for the Suns, Monday's game was like nothing they could have hoped for.
Baez dominated in his six innings of work. The expected winner of the Futures League's pitcher of the year award held the Suns to three hits and two walks, while striking out eight.
What is one of the great, and sometimes, frustrating things about the game of baseball is how one play can change the game's momentum.
Take Monday, where the Bravehearts scored two runs in the first inning against starter Mike Nocchi. The Pittsfield right hander set the Bravehearts down in order in the second, and when the Suns came up in the third, they had a chance to get back in the game.
Baez walked Taylor Beckett on a 3-2 pitch and Beckett took second when Hughes struck out and the ball got away from catcher Riley Livingston. The next batter was Nate Cormier, who moved Beckett to third with a bloop single to right.
Cooney struck out, bringing up Troy Strack with two outs. Manager Matt Gedman had Cormier running on a hit-and-run as Strack grounded one off the mound. Worcester second baseman Mariano Ricciardi was coming over to cover the bag on a possible steal, he fielded the grounder and Cormier was forced at second. Had the runner not gone, it would have been an RBI single, and the tenor of the game might have changed.
Baez kept the Suns off the board throughout his performance.
"That kid is so good," Gedman said. "Once he settles in and gets through three or four, he's hard to get to. He just competes, so hats off to Baez. One through nine, they're good. They have guys who have been on championship teams in the past — guys who came in late in the year or guys who were here the whole year."
Worcester took the lead in the first inning on consecutive singles by Ricciardi, John Thrasher and Rice. Rice's base hit plated both runs in the inning.
The Bravehearts, meanwhile, extended the lead from 2-0 to 10-0 through five innings. Designated hitter Ben Rice had the hot bat for the Bravehearts, going 2 for 4 with four runs batted in. He hit a two-run single in the first inning and had a two-run single in the fourth. That was part of a three-run inning that made it 8-0.
"They hit the ball today, that's for sure," said Petersen. "It was a good season. We didn't come out on top today.
"The Suns will be back."
Cormier was one of five Berkshire County guys on the final Suns roster. Most of them were from smaller schools like Cormier's Nichols. The question was posed to the former Monument Mountain Spartan about being a Division III guy in the league.
"It's a great question," said Cormier, when asked about his ability to compete against players from Division I schools. "A little town, small D-III ball club, you don't know what to expect. Last year, I got a little experience [in Nashua], and I felt like I could do it. I showed up this year, and I didn't hit as well as I wanted to, obviously.
"I got better, and that's all I can say."
It was a rough finish for Gedman and his players. Fifteen Suns players who had been with the squad earlier in the year, were not with the team on the bus for the playoff run. The locker tags of the players were posted on the back of the clubhouse door at Wahconah Park. Those players left to return to or prepare for the upcoming college season, or pitchers had run out of innings.
"I really appreciate the guys sticking it out," Gedman said. "It's a grind. If guys have aspirations to play at the next level, this is similar to what it is. It says a lot about their character that they stayed for all 56 games and the playoffs. Mixed into the 50 games they play in college, that's still 106. In pro ball, you play 140 plus a full spring training. You kind of get a feel for the guys who love baseball. It's a good experience.
"More than winning or losing, it's about relationships you have for the rest of your life."
Pittsfield 000 000 001 — 1 4 2
Worcester 203 320 000 — 10 12 0
Nocchi (3 1/3), Moran (1 2/3), Leake (1), Gamelin (1), Vrionis (1) and Petersen. Baez (6), Case (1), Moynihan (2) and Livingston. W — Baez (1-0). L — Nocchi (0-1). 2B — P: Cooney. W: Ricciardi, Cheli. 3B — W: Rinaldi. HR — P: Petersen (1). T — 2:30. A — 1,336.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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