The longer Tuesday’s game wore on, the more it seemed like one team would need to catch a break for either side to put a run on the board and disrupt the 2-2 tie.
In the ninth inning, Cranston East caught its break.
After Warwick Vets pitcher Shane Johnson dazzled for eight innings and East pitcher Kyle Tracy did the same for nine, the ’Bolts’ Stephen Bucci scored on a two-out passed ball in the bottom half of the second extra frame, lifting East to an exhausting 3-2 victory over the ’Canes.
It was a brutal way to end an otherwise well-played game for Vets, and it was the second consecutive game that it had lost in extra innings. The ’Canes fell 10-9 to East Providence last Wednesday in eight innings.
East improved to 2-1 with the win, while Vets dropped to 1-2 in Division I-Central.
“Tough one to take, it’s our second one in a row in extra innings,” Vets head coach Nolan Landy said. “It’s down to execution. We’re playing good D, we’re pitching the ball great, we’re hitting in certain situations. It’s just the mental part of baseball games right now.”
Vets scored an unearned run in the first inning and another run in the third inning, but Tracy allowed nothing more from there on out.
The senior right-hander threw a 97-pitch complete game five-hitter, striking out nine batters while walking just one.
“He threw the ball well,” East head coach Mike Walsh said. “He settled in. Once he started commanding the zone a little bit better, he started throwing that curveball for a strike. He was spotting his fastball.”
But the ’Canes got their own gem from Johnson. He threw 118 pitches over eight innings, surrendering five hits, while striking out 12 and walking three.
“Shane was phenomenal,” Landy said. “Working ahead in the count, striking guys out. Couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The combination of Tracy and Johnson matching zeros put a premium on mistake-free baseball, and it was Vets who made two crucial ones in the ninth.
First, in the top half, after Danny Greaves singled to open the inning and was replaced by pinch-runner Andrew Morrissette, Patrick Delsanto hit a bounding ball to shortstop.
Ivan Reyes flipped the ball to Bucci at second, and he was slid into by Morrissette. It was unclear whether or not Bucci could have completed the double play to first anyway, but Morrissette was called for obstruction and Delsanto was ruled out at first.
Tracy then calmly induced a pop-out from Bryan O’Mara, ending the inning.
With Tracy at 97 pitches – and his limit being right around 100 – the obstruction call may have allowed him to finish out the inning rather than forcing East to go to the bullpen.
“That obstruction call really helped him,” Walsh said.
In the bottom of the ninth, Greaves relieved Johnson on the mound, and he retired the first two batters. But Bucci hit a hard ball to shortstop that took a bad hop off of T.J. Boyajian, allowing him to reach.
Nick Ferry then came up and hit a slow roller to Boyajian in the hole, and Ferry beat the throw to first. Bucci took third on the play.
Cody Lindell stepped in, and on the first pitch from Greaves, the ball tipped off catcher Kyle Waters glove and rolled all the way to the backstop. Bucci cruised home easily, ending the game.
“To win a game on a passed ball, you’re happy to win,” Walsh said. “That’s what it comes down to. At this time of year, you just want to collect as many wins as you can.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for the ’Canes, who had a 2-0 lead and had runners in scoring position in both the seventh and eighth innings, but couldn’t find a way to pull it out.
“It was a great effort,” Landy said. “Great effort overall. But we just need a little more to get us over the top.”
Vets’ first run came in the opening frame, as Boyajian reached on an infield error, stole second, was bunted to third by Waters and scored on a sacrifice fly from Kevin Hickey.
In the third inning, Anthony Lonczak was hit by a Tracy pitch, stole second, moved to third on a single by Boyajian and scored on a single by Waters to make it 2-0.
From there it was tough, though, as the ’Canes managed just two more hits and five total baserunners off Tracy the rest of the way.
“You just need good, solid at-bats,” Landy said. “Not going out there swinging at the first pitch. Make him work a little bit. Those are the things we’ve got to work on.”
East, meanwhile, started to chip into the lead. It scored in the third inning when Bucci singled, stole second and then came all the way around on an infield single from Reyes.
In the fifth, Ferry reached on an error, stole second and third and came around to tie the game on a single over first base from Reyes.
After that, though, it was the Johnson and Tracy show, as it was all zeroes until the ninth.
Vets got some clutch defense from Hickey to keep it that way. In that fifth inning, on a leadoff hit by Bucci, Hickey made a perfect throw to Boyajian, the cutoff man, who threw to O’Mara to gun down Bucci at second.
Then, in the eighth inning, after the first two East batters had reached, Hickey made a diving catch in left field along the fence in foul territory on a ball off the bat of Rob Borrelli. Johnson was then able to get out of the jam.
“It just seemed like every time one team or the other was about to do something, something happened to get out of innings,” Walsh said. “The game kind of became a blur.”
Vets’ biggest threats late in the game came when Steven Denis walked in the seventh, and pinch-runner Lonczak stole second. But Tyler Oliveira struck out to end the threat. In the eighth, Boyajian reached on an error but was then caught stealing. The next batter, Hickey, was hit by a pitch and advanced all the way to third on an errant pick-off throw, but Johnson was retired on a lineout to right before Vets could do any damage.
The ’Canes will try to rebound from the loss today, when they travel to rival Pilgrim for a 3:30 p.m. game. East is also back in action today, as it goes to Barrington for a 3:45 p.m. start.
“We played great,” Landy said. “A couple of mental things we’re working on right now. We’re struggling with the mental aspect right now, but we’ll get that.”