By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — Just over a third of the way into their season, as the sun set without a cloud in the sky into the twilight of a chilly summer night, the DC Grays were hurled around their ballpark that was silent for two-thirds of the night, aside from the constant buzz coming from the first base dugout.
The team at the top of the standings, the one that most teams are unable to compete with on a consistent basis, the Bethesda Big Train, was the one that did the hurling in a 13-1 win at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Aside from Cooper Vest’s (BYU) three scoreless innings and his RBI single — the one that gave DC a quick 1-0 lead that vanished innings later — was just about all the Grays had to cheer for in three-and-a-half hours of mostly one-sided action.
Dylan Seisky (Lafayette), after relieving Vest and tasked with preserving the Grays’ advantage in the fourth, was tagged for five runs. Hasan Aquil (Lincoln), the second and final true pitcher to come out of the bullpen, allowed eight runs, while throwing 97 pitches in his 3 ⅔ innings of work. Bethesda collected nine hits and walked 12 times, compared with the five hits and 15 strikeouts the Grays had against starter Jake Eddington (Alabama) and four relievers.
Eddington, who had a 7.29 ERA with the Crimson Tide in 21 innings and an ERA of 10 in three starts with the Big Train this season, tossed three innings of one-run baseball. The Grays dropped to 4-9, and with only 37 games on the schedule, a slow start could have adverse consequences in a playoff-seeding race that’s beginning to take shape.
But even with the playoff race beginning to unfold, Wednesday night’s loss wasn't totally unexpected.
The Big Train has the league’s best offense, one that ranks at the top in just about every category. They have the league’s best pitching, on average the staff allows one fewer run per game than second-place Gaithersburg. And they have the league’s best defense, which hardly miscommunicates and rarely commits bone-headed errors.
For a moment — three innings to be exact — it seemed like the Grays could have handed the Big Train just their third loss in 15 games. After Vest threw 15 pitches on Monday in relief, it appeared that DC’s manager, Reggie Terry, was saving his club’s best arm for Wednesday's matchup against the league’s premier team.
Vest, who sits in second in league ERA, only trailing teammate Tucker Alch for the top spot, was pulled after his third inning of work. He was in the midst of a fourth straight scoreless start, one in which he sat the first four Big Train hitters down in order before a throwing error gave Bethesda its first base runner. He didn’t let the error affect his start and worked around it and a two-out single in the second inning.
Those were the only base runners Vest would allow to reach base in his brief stint on the mound. He was untouchable after that, and settled in the next inning, forcing the No. 9, No. 1 and No. 2 hitters into soft outs.
He helped himself out in the second inning, too. In the lineup as the designated hitter, Vest blooped a single that fell in between the right fielder, center field and second baseman to score Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond).
After shutting down the league’s best offense for the first three innings, Vest didn’t walk out to the mound for the next inning. Terry hasn’t let Vest work too deep into games this season. After all, Vest is coming off elbow surgery in 2020, which was what kept him off the mound for BYU in the spring. Aside from Opening Day, though, Terry has given Vest a longer leash and permitted him to throw five innings in his next two starts — the latest one coming against the South County Braves last Wednesday.
Instead of allowing Vest to work deeper, Terry turned to Seisky, who — in a bullpen that’s had its issues — has become his most trusted reliever. After pitching a scoreless fourth inning, the wheels started falling off. He started the fifth with two quick outs — a ground out and a strikeout — and then issued a free pass to the No. 9 hitter in the lineup and then another to Bethesda’s lead off hitter. On the first pitch he threw to No. 2 hitter Kyle Velazquez (St. Mary’s), he was forced to turn around and watch the ball fly out of the yard.
Two more runs scored on the second home run Seisky yielded in the inning before he was able to get out of the inning with a flyout.
The offense, meanwhile, had no answers for Eddington and a quartet of Big Train relievers. After giving up the RBI single in the second, he pitched around Scott Bandura’s (Princeton) lead-off single in the third to strand him on the bases. He was yanked before the fourth and was followed by Zach Locke (2 ⅔ innings), Everett Catlett (one-third of an inning), Josh Grosz (two innings) and Jesse Barron (one inning), who retired the final 17 hitters of the game, nine of whom were set down on strikes.
Cam Bufford (Grambling) stayed hot, picking up a single against Locke (Long Beach) to lead off the fourth, and is now six for his last 12. But Bufford was erased on a double play ball which started the string of the final 17 DC hitters that were retired in a row.
Wednesday’s loss was just a single game in a larger season. Aquil, who was fifth on the team in ERA entering play, was knocked around for eight runs in his 3 ⅔ innings of mop-up work that began in the sixth. Seisky proved that even the most trusted relievers can have struggles every once in a while. An unpredictable offense — set ablaze on Monday, torpid on Wednesday — isn’t unexpected in a sport that requires hitters to hit a round ball, with a round bat, square.
The Grays will have another shot to figure it out on Thursday, when they look to get back in the win column and host the Silver Spring T-Bolts. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.