By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — Dustin Mercer (Virginia Tech) smacked a tailor-made double play ground ball to Cam Bufford (Grambling) with runners on first and second, a double play ball that would have gotten the DC Grays and starter Jake Davidson (Kenyon) out of the first inning unscathed.
The Grays’ shortstop charged the grounder, squared up, and fired the ball towards Jahli Hendricks (Southern), who was covering second and awaiting Bufford’s throw. Instead of recording the second out of the inning, the throw was airmailed and sent into right field.
The error brought in a pair of runs on the play and, when paired with the DC Grays’ inability to hit when they needed to, were the deciding factors of their 3-1 loss to the Gaithersburg Giants on Friday night.
It was the only time Davidson looked anywhere near shaky in his one-hit, two-walk start, in which he yielded three unearned runs — the third run scored on a Sam Kaplan (Cornell) two-out, three-base error on a ball that bounced over his head in right field. It was a lead that two Giants pitchers — starter Matt Reich (Stevenson) and reliever Johnathan Martinez (Texas St.) — could protect. The result, in the teams’ fourth meeting of the year, was sour for a Grays team that has been close to connecting the dots all season long.
Friday marked the seventh time, in 10 total losses, in which the team dropped a game by three runs or fewer.
They failed to move runners in critical situations. Their Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters — Bufford, Kaplan and Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) — combined for five hits in 11 at-bats. The rest of the lineup picked up three hits in 18 at-bats. The bullpen, which has had its fair share of struggles this season, was fine. The offense, on Friday night at least, wasn’t.
The Grays, if all goes right, should spend the rest of the season in a five-way battle for second place in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League. They, the Alexandria Aces (8-6), Gaithersburg Giants (8-6), South County Braves (6-8) and Silver Spring T-Bolts (3-10) have yet to put a distance between second place and the rest of the league. The Bethesda Big Train (13-2), meanwhile, have pulled away at the top of the standings.
The Grays, if they can get hot at the right time, have as fair of a shot at second place as every other team. But Friday’s loss to the Giants stings just a little more. They could have gained a game on Gaithersburg and Alexandria for second place had the offense pulled through.
Yet the Grays couldn’t turn a strong start into much else. Bufford and Kaplan hit back-to-back singles with two outs in the bottom of the first, but were the first two of seven runners the Grays left stranded.
After Davidson allowed five of the first 12 batters he faced to reach base — three were on errors — he retired 16 of the next 17 batters before his outing came to an end at the conclusion of the seventh inning. He worked quickly and efficiently, forcing weak contact and recording 12 ground outs and seven fly outs. He threw just 81 pitches — 53 strikes — to the 27 batters he faced in seven innings.
But Reich and Martinez matched Davidson’s rhythm. On two occasions, Kaplan reached second base — once in the fourth and once in the sixth — with less than two outs. Both times, the Grays couldn’t score him. And, in the end, they paid for it.
DC began a mini-rally in the ninth, but that was shut down soon after it started. Sprague-Lott singled with one out and Tanner Sagouspe (Cal Poly) drove him in with a triple to right field with two outs. The bleak offensive night ended a batter later when Martinez struck out the final DC hitter of the night.
A night after the Grays seemed to be able to pick up any timely hit they wanted in the early innings in a loss to Silver Spring, they couldn’t buy one against Gaithersburg on Friday.
They'll try to right the ship on Saturday night, in another home match-up with the South County Braves. First pitch is at 7:00pm at the Nationals Youth Academy.