By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — It could have been the swing, the sound, or maybe even how the baseball climbed up and over the right field wall, because the DC Grays’ dugout was celebrating well before Scott Bandura’s (Princeton) grand slam slammed into the protective netting and fell behind the chain-linked fence in front of the road leading to John Philip Sousa Junior High School.
Once the ball landed, the scoreboard moved in the Grays’ favor on Saturday night, a mob of players in the dugout ran towards home plate or waited at the bottom of the steps. They smacked his helmet and his hands and his back and eventually let go of him as a smile beamed across his face. For a team that went through more downs than ups in the Grays’ five-game, week-long homestand, Bandura's homer picked the team up.
“This win was a huge momentum boost for us since we’ve been on a bit of a slide,” Bandura said, alluding to DC’s three-game losing streak coming in on Saturday night. “We’re swinging the bats well and the pitching is back on track. It’s going to be up from here.”
And it delivered a 9-4 win over the South County Braves, right when the Grays looked like they were about to waste another solid — if not good — outing from their starting pitcher. After Michael Eggert (Wofford) was perfect in his five innings of work in Thursday’s loss to the Silver Spring T-Bolts, and Jake Davidson’s (Kenyon) three-unearned run, seven inning loss against the Gaithersburg Giants on Friday, it was Tim Jinks (Drew) turn to deliver on the mound Saturday night.
He locked in and gave up four runs in six innings, a solid outing by anyone’s measure. He was matched pitch-for-pitch by Braves’ starter Kyle W. Lewis (Marymount) in his scoreless four innings of work. But this time the Grays were the ones who tormented against an opponent’s bullpen on the way to a comeback win.
They’re now 5-10 and, after dropping three straight games this week, are showing some signs of life.
Jinks worked around base runners in three scoreless frames with a fly out, ground out and a strike out. It wasn’t until he allowed a leadoff single in the fourth, which was followed by another single, and then a two-out, two-RBI double. Then, he yielded an RBI-single before ending the inning with a line-out to shortstop, stranding two South County runners on the corners.
The three-run fourth inning looked to be a decisive blow for a Grays team that had only plated a run in their past 15 innings. Other than the fourth inning, Jinks was dominant for the rest of the night.
The Grays nearly got to Lewis in the third inning after Peter Costigan (Charleston) and Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette) reached on singles, but Lewis used an Evan Smith (West Virginia) flyout to strand both of them. And then they nearly got to him again in the fourth. After Drew Calhoun (Wofford) reached on a hit-by-pitch and Bandura singled with an out, they both moved up to second on a passed ball that reached the backstop. But two straight strikeouts left the Grays empty-handed once again.
South County pulled its starter after he began to fall behind hitters. But it was a move that didn’t quite pan out.
Dan Cote (Hartford) was the first Brave called out of the bullpen. The Grays’ fifth inning rally began with a single from Costigan and a sacrifice bunt from Max Power-Kruger (Morehead State) to move Costigan into scoring position. Next, Chmielewski was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second, and Smith followed that up with a flyout. Tanner Sagouspe (Cal Poly-SLO) roped an RBI single up the middle to score Costigan, and then Calhoun was hit by another pitch to load the bases. Finally, Bandura strolled to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
“Thankfully, Drew Calhoun ate a pitch off his back to get me into that position,” Bandura said with a laugh and a smile.
Bandura’s last home run came in an extra-innings loss to South County last Sunday. Since then Bandura has been slumping and had just two hits in his last 11 at-bats. He was moved down in the order from the leadoff spot to the No. 5 hole on Saturday.
In his third at-bat of the night, he watched the first two pitches go by, both balls, before taking a hack and fouling off the third pitch. He watched another go by. Ball Three. Cote, trailing 3-1 in the count, tried to sneak a fastball by but Bandura didn’t miss it. His uppercut swing sent the ball flying to right field, and he admired his blast all the way down the first base line.
“Once the count went 2-0, I was just looking for something to hit,” Bandura said. “Luckily, the count moved to 3-1. One run would’ve been on a walk, but I knew I needed to stay aggressive and knew we were going to need a hit to take the lead, so I got a good pitch to drive and I just put a good swing on it.”
As he rounded the bases with pure joy and elation, all 150 Grays fans in the ballpark rose to their feet to cheer on Bandura. He pounded his fist into the air as he looked in towards the Grays’ dugout, which had already been emptied and was already in deep celebration. They knew it was gone as soon as they heard the crack of the bat, as did Bandura, and they couldn’t be held back.
With the season nearly halfway complete, this was the victory the Grays needed, a morale boost if that. They’ve been oh, so close to connecting the dots all season long, and have lost seven of their 10 games by just two runs or fewer.
Maybe Saturday’s game was the missing piece in the Grays’ offensive struggles. And maybe, just maybe, it can give the Grays the momentum they need to make some noise on the back half of their schedule.
The Grays will look for their second straight win as they travel to Bethesda to take on the first-place Big Train Sunday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Shirley Povich Field.