Post-Game Majors Chris McQueen
With ⅔ of the IBL season having come and gone, the London Majors find themselves in rare territory that they have not been in since the 2016 playoffs, and that is in must win situations. At the this point of the season, teams should be fighting to climb the standings and better their playoff chances by having home field advantage. London should have only to deal with the ceremonial 1st pitch on Salvation Army night at Labatt Memorial Park in London. Unfortunately, the Majors are in a slightly different struggle because as of Friday evening before 1st pitch at 7:45pm EST, London and their opponents from Kitchener, were separated by only one game in the overall IBL standings. What this means is that a Panthers win Friday, puts the two teams in a tie in games behind the league leading Baycats. London earns the slim 2nd place edge, due to the fact they have 1 less loss than Kitchener at 19-5, but everyone needs to remember the outcome of their previous encounter. The Panthers play the Majors very tough and was never more evident than their last game which resulted in a 5-3 loss, on the road in Kitchener mind you, but still a crucial head to head loss. As the London Majors currently play the 1st place Baycats Saturday afternoon in Barrie, nobody was thinking about the Panthers, each player and coach had only a sleep and travel time to mull over Friday’s results before their next game.
London’s resident ace on staff, Luis Sanchez took to the mound for the Majors, while Kitchener was to counter with Noelvis Entenza in the bottom half of the 1st inning. Sanchez began Friday night with an impressive 7-1 record, and a 2.42 ERA. Entenza was a perfect 4-0 and has a modest ERA of 3.26. With a potential pitching duel before their fans, London’s silent bats needed to come alive and drown out the good music from the neighboring “Rock The Park” 90’s music festival which was taking place across the Thames River from the stadium during Friday night’s matchup. It was the Panthers, however, who looked ready to strike first this game. Kitchener’s Sean Reilly and Tanner Nivins reached base and were on 1st and 2nd, waiting for the next hit to bring one or both of them home, but that hit never came. The top of the 1st inning ended with the 2 runners changing into their fielding gear and preparing for the bottom of the inning. Panthers’ starter Entenza fared no better than his counterpart Sanchez to start the bottom of the 1st inning. Lead off specialist for the Majors, Chris McQueen reached base, as he so often does in a variety ways, this time with a conventional single. McQueen relishes the role and does what he can to reach base, however possible, as he states in his postgame comments. McQueen made it to 2nd base with his uncanny sense of timing in each game off of a ground out by Carlos Arteaga, then reaching 3rd as the pitcher botched an attempt to pick him off at 2nd. Slugger Byron Reichstein is walked by Entenza, so now first blood could be drawn by London. The chess pieces were in place with runners on the corners and 2 outs, but similarly to Kitchener’s failure before them in the top of the inning, the Majors left the runners stranded and brought their defense on the field for the top of the 2nd inning, and the score remaining scoreless.
London’s Luis Sanchez was every bit like the flame-throwing ace that was his reputation. Sanchez looked confident and dominant as he sat down the 3 Panthers batters he faced for a 3 up and 3 down 2nd inning. Even though it is synonymous with the actions of a Panther, it was the Majors who pounced all over Kitchener starter Noelvis Entenza. London perfectly executed what is labelled as “small ball”, successful bunting and timely singles combined to load the bases for Carlos Arteaga to cash in runners and give his team the 1st runs of the game. Arteaga proved that he was up to the challenge at hand by singling home 2 runs, earning himself 2 RBI, more importantly giving his Majors a 2-0 lead. London could squeeze no more out of Entenza in the 2nd, ending the bottom of the inning leading the Panthers 2-0.
Kitchener would get 1 run back making the score 2-1 for the Majors, before a controversial play at the plate, in which the Panthers’ Josh Garton was called out trying to score at home, even though it appeared that Garton had beaten the throw. A call that incensed the bench and coaching staff of Kitchener, but to no avail as their 3rd inning flurry was abrubtly ceased by a nice play by the pitcher Luis Sanchez. With runners threatening on the corners for the Panthers, Sanchez calmly plays a comebacker, making it look effortless, ending the inning with no further catastrophe at 2-1 for his team. LeJon Baker stepped up to the plate for London, still exuding an air of intoxication from his double 2-run homerun performance in the Majors’ doubleheader losses to Barrie last weekend. Baker and teammate Brett Sabourin reached base. Baker ran to 3rd base and would score on a Humberto Ruiz ground out. Sabourin, would eventually be put out for the 3rd out of the inning, but not before his side restored the 2 run lead at 3-1.
London’s starter Luis Sanchez was in full control and poised to not only earn the win, but possibly complete the full game. Although Sanchez had given up 6 hits through 3 innings, he had a 3-1 lead, although a 2 run margin is not safe in most cases in the IBL, it usually is when Sanchez is on the mound for the Majors. Sanchez gave up his 3rd walk of the game to Kitchener’s Yorbis Borroto in the top of the 4th inning, which combined with the 6 hits, sparked a visit from his Manager Roop Chanderdat. A quick conversation, some head nodding, a pat on the butt from his Manager, and Sanchez was ready to resume the 4th inning. Sanchez’s reassurance to Chanderdat proved to be truthful, as he induced a 2 outs fly out from the Panthers’ Josh Gorton to end Kitchener’s half of the 4th inning without giving up any runs. Sanchez’s ability to hold a lead and keep his team in every game aside, the Majors’ needed to generate some more support for their starter. The Panthers are fighting for 2nd place just as hard as the Majors are fighting to keep it. Any pitcher in the IBL would appreciate a bigger cushion to work with than 2 runs, but if anyone could rise to the occasion and pull out the victory, it was supposed to be Sanchez. London’s dormant bats made no impact on the scoreboard in the bottom of the 4th, which would prove to be fateful for their starting ace.
Kitchener’s Tanner Nivins faced Sanchez in the top of the 5th inning while a runner was on base, and proceeded to suck the life out of Labatt Memorial Park. Nivins absolutely crushed a Sanchez offering well over the right field shrubs, for his 6th home run, and 19th RBI of the season. Nivins impressive power display at the plate tied the game and suddenly the once safe lead under Sanchez’s supervision, was erased at 3-3. Steadfast and loyal to his starting ace on the hump, Manager Roop Chanderdat allowed Sanchez the chance to escape the inning giving up only the 2 runs, and Sanchez did just that, retiring the rest of the Panthers’ batters. Now it was truly time for his teammates to step up and support him with their own frenzy of offense at the plate. The frenzy never even got started as the Majors bats fizzled and were more silent than a Charlie Chaplin film. London put up no resistance, showing no sense of urgency or even an ounce of fight in their half of the 5th inning. The Panthers were not coming, they were not knocking at the door of the Majors, they were there. 2nd place was on the line and in the sights of Kitchener. The Panthers were charged up from the Nivins 2 run homer in the 4th, and wasted no time in continuing the momentum. Sean Reilly, the favourite target of jeers and taunts from Majors’ fans every time he enters the batter’s box, singled, earning more verbal assaults, and spitting gasoline on the fires of rage emanating from the crowd at Labatt Memorial Park. If London’s fans were cheesed about Reilly’s hit, Josh Gorton’s at bat would outright infuriate them, as he slapped a 2 run homerun to give Kitchener their 1st lead of the game 5-3. Luis Sanchez night came to an end without the usual run support from his mates, surrendering 5 earned runs, 5 walks, 4 strikeouts, through 5 innings. The monumental task of keeping the Majors in the game was now being assigned to reliever Mike DeLong. DeLong did nothing to earn the confidence of his Majors or the fans as he subsequently would load the bases after taking over for Sanchez. DeLong seemed cooler than an ice cube in a bowl of hot sauce after getting the Panthers’ Mike Gordner to fly out and end the disastrous half of the 6th inning for London. The Majors provided a glimmer of hope for a win to their fans by taxing 1 more run from Kitchener’s Entenza in the bottom of the 6th inning, but more was needed.
The score was 5-4 at the start of the 7th inning and with both teams looking like their bullpens were going to dominate the remainder of this game, a run in the 7th by either team would be crucial for a positive result for one team. Each side failed to take advantage of the other’s ineptitude, as the 5-4 score remained illuminated on the scoreboard for all to view. The atmosphere in the stadium was non-existent. The sounds of “Let’s go Majors!” were being drowned out by the music of Salt N’ Pepa at the music festival in the park next to Labatt Memorial Park. A golden opportunity for London to tie the game up and even take the lead in a best case scenario while the Panthers struggled, was squandered. The Majors did not score a run in the 7th, 8th, and neither did Kitchener. The Panthers added insurance with 1 more run in the top of the 9th inning, which gave London one last kick at the can to win the game in the bottom of the 9th inning. Failing to execute the way they successfully did in the earlier innings, sealed the fate of the Majors. London lost their 3rd straight game, 6-4. More notable than the tough loss, was the handful of mistakes in critical junctions of Friday night’s game, an inability to bunt, base-running errors, and other mental timeouts, which cost them sole possession of 2nd place in the IBL standings. This was not lost on London Manager Roop Chanderdat in his post game comments. Now 2nd place was only separated by Kitchener having 1 more loss in the column than London, and with back to back wins over the Majors, 2nd place is in their sights and very attainable.
London has to rebound from this minor setback and view the loss as just that, a setback. A double header against the 1st place Barrie Baycats in Barrie is now upon them and also an opportunity to erase the loss Friday night. There is no time to reflect, reminisce, or even console each other. A sweep in both games, however, could bring the Majors closer to 1st place, regain 2nd place from the Panthers, and give them a much needed shot in the arm in terms of their confidence moving forward to close out the 2017 season. Will the unbreakable and undying loyalty of the London fans be able to withstand the roller coaster ride that will most likely be the rest of their Majors’ season? Time will tell.