By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Mark Briscoe)
The Alexandria Aces posted a respectable 3-2 win-loss record from June 25 to July 1, but the second defeat was as hard as any the team experienced all summer and it came in their own ball park.
Aces head coach Dave DeSilva gathered his players in left field after the final pitch to discuss their mental approach to baseball. He talked about how they must come to the field ready to play each night. All night.
It was a game the Aces seemed destined to win. The home team was up 5-1 in the top of the ninth inning against the Vienna River Dogs.
And even after a rally that saw the visitors score three runs, the Aces needed just one more strikeout to win.
Instead Vienna went on an improbable tear and scored nine runs in the final inning — a rally that began with head coach Bruce Hall imploring his squad to “steal this thing.”
The 10-5 comeback wiped out a sterling start by new Aces pitcher Ray Gambone of Wilmington University, who threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings for the Aces in his first appearance after being signed last week.
The Aces had a rally of their own in the bottom of the third, scoring five runs despite having two outs and nobody on base. It all started when shortstop J.D. Long walked and was scored on a home run by second baseman Jake Kuzbel.
Ashford Fulmer homered on the next at-bat. The Aces scored twice more after a walk and a pair of two-out doubles by Josh Swirchak — who had two hits in the game and ranks among the leading batters in the league — and right fielder Ryan Lukach.
Gambone gave up some early hits, but a nasty pickoff move nailed a few River Dogs and cleared the bases.
In the top of the fourth inning, after escaping a few early jams, he walked the leadoff batter and fell behind 1-0 in the count before catcher Danny Bermudez walked out to the mound.
Whatever Bermudez said worked. Gambone retired the next three batters and would give up just seven hits and strike out six.
However, after Gambone was relieved, the Aces bullpen struggled. The River Dogs scored six off Kyle Ward and three more from Austin Dykes before the rally finally ended with the strikeout of Ray Lopez, who doubled earlier in the same inning for the visitors.
“It looked like they were going to walk away with it,” said River Dogs coach Bruce Hall. “To their credit, they had a guy who pitched a great game, but the other guys the brought in, we just squared them up.”
“When you’re down 5-0 with three innings to play in baseball, it’s never over.”
DeSilva credited Gambone but said the Aces got complacent after taking the early 5-0 lead.
“Five runs is never enough, especially in this league,” he said. “We’re not talking about pro athletes. There are going to be mistakes. There are going to be pitching mistakes. There are going to be errors in the field. And there are going to be mental lapses. We suffered from all of that.”
At the same time, it’s a long season, DeSilva added. A tough loss, while never easy, “is part of baseball, part of the game.”
Even with the defeat, the Aces remained solidly in fourth place and ranked among the top teams in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer League. DeSilva said the team tends to play to its competition, beating the best but sometimes struggling against lower ranked teams.
Earlier in the week, the Aces beat the third-best team in the league, the Baltimore Redbirds, by a score of 2-1 but then dropped two straight to teams with records under .500: the River Dogs and DC Grays.
“Some games we’re great, and some games we struggle,” he said.