By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — It happened again, this one perhaps stung more than the others, and all the DC Grays could do was watch their bullpen and defense let another late lead slip through their grasp.
The steps toward it were agonizing. Three errors, a few questionable decisions, and, finally, a grand slam sealed the Grays’ fate in an extra-inning 12-5 loss against the Silver Spring T-Bolts at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Thursday night.
Reliever Frank Craska trotted out for his third inning of work in the top of the 10th after setting down six straight T-Bolt batters. In three of his six appearances, he’s been tasked with getting nine outs. In all three, he’s hardly had trouble with the first six outs, but those final three outs in a three-inning outing have eluded him.
The Grays’ bullpen remained dormant, even as Craska stood on the mound after throwing 46 pitches, and after he had given up the go-ahead, two-run double to Silver Spring’s Justin Carboni (Penn). Manager Reggie Terry removed him three hitters later after Craska had given up an RBI single, a runner reached on an error, and hit the last batter he faced.
The defense and the bullpen had already coughed up a four-run advantage the inning prior to Craska’s entrance. The Grays tied the score at five with a RBI single from Nehmeiah Wright (Grambling) in the eighth, but couldn’t pick up a timely hit when they needed it most. DC dropped to 4-10, and if there was a silver-lining by night’s end, it was that they’re still within three-and-a-half of second place in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League.
Fourteen games into a 36-game season sprint, and what can only be described as a rough start, the Grays have been unable to close out games they’ve held late lead in. They’ve lost six of their 10 games by just two runs or fewer. And in all six of those losses, the Grays led for at least two innings.
Terry threw outfielder Peter Costigan (Charleston) out on the mound for mop-up work with the bases loaded as the Grays trailed by three. Costigan gave up a grand slam to the first batter he faced, putting the game out of reach, but did his job by getting the final two outs and saved an arm for the Grays matchup against the South County Braves on Friday.
The night started out well for DC. Michael Eggert (Wofford) started for the Grays and turned in his best start of the summer. He was perfect through five innings and struck out nine of the 15 batters he faced on 62 pitches. The Grays built their lead with solo home runs from Jahli Hendricks (Southern) and Alex Rosen (Georgetown), a single from Brandon Gibbs (Delaware State), and a throwing error that scored Rosen from third.
Then their bullpen and defense buckled, and the lead melted away.
Joseph O’Connell (Harvard) was the second reliever to enter the game after newcomer Donavon Freyer (Shorter University) came on for Eggert and held the T-Bolts scoreless in the sixth. An error to begin O'Connell's inning of work allowed Carboni to reach base and then defensive collapse continued.
A passed ball allowed Carboni to score Silver Spring’s first run two batters later. After another error, a single, two doubles and five runs crossed the plate (all unearned) by the time the top of the seventh ended, the T-Bolts led 5-4.
The Grays came back and tied it in the eighth, but after Wright’s RBI single fell in front of Silver Spring’s center fielder to tie the score at five, the timely hits stopped falling for the Grays. To begin the ninth, Gibbs picked up a single that fell into right field and then was pinch-run for by Scott Bandura (Princeton). He swiped second with no outs, and then third with one out.
Rosen, who was up 3-0 in the count after Bandura stole third, struck out. And with two outs, Sabin Roane (Old Dominion) smacked a hard ground ball down the third base line that nearly stayed fair, and kept the Grays from burning themselves once again. He wasn’t able to pick up the elusive hit, however and struck out on the next pitch, stranding Bandura — the game-winning run — at third, putting a punctuation mark on another lost opportunity.
And then the offensive flood gates opened for the T-Bolts in the next half-inning. They scored seven runs and sent 12 batters to the plate before Costigan recorded the final out in the 10th.
Nonetheless, the disappointing start could still be righted with a sharp turnaround over the course of the next week. The Grays will look to right the ship against the Gaithersburg Giants Friday evening at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. First pitch is set for 7:00 p.m.