BRISTOL - All the Bristol Blues had to do was watch Michael Genaro go to work and provide a little bit of offense behind him.
In what looked to be a pitcher’s duel early at Muzzy Field Monday night, the Blues were able to break through in the fifth to take down the Pittsfield Suns 4-0. The contest was a single-elimination playoff game, giving Bristol a spot in the semifinals against the Worcester Bravehearts starting tonight.
“I think we played really well,” Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said after the game. “The biggest thing we said at the beginning of the summer is ‘throw strikes, work ahead in counts and play clean on defense and when we have opportunities on defense, let’s take advantage of them.’ We had one big inning tonight and our pitching was pretty decent all night.”
Genaro proved why he is the ace of the staff, throwing his best start in the biggest game of the season. In 6 2/3 innings of work, the southpaw from Babson College gave up just four hits and walked two. He also struck out three Suns hitters.
“The heat was a little tough at first,” Genaro said. “It took a little time to settle in. Obviously, I didn’t have command. I guess I got a little lucky in those couple of innings with balls getting hit at people. But I settled in, found all my pitches. I commanded my fastball much better in the later innings. When I can do that, it makes my job a lot easier.”
The starter did struggle with control early on, which is uncharacteristic of the lefty. But Genaro seemed to only improve as the game went on - allowing just two baserunners from the fourth inning on.
“I think it just shows his maturity,” Palmer said of Genaro’s improvement throughout the game. “He knew his stuff was there. He just had to locate a little bit. He was talking to his catcher about what pitches he had a good feel for so he just stuck with them and got through the first innings unscathed and then settled in.”
Going into the game, the numbers appeared to be in Blues’ favor - Bristol had won 10 of the 13 matchups between the two teams in the regular season - but a solid start from Suns pitcher Izaiya Mestre made it difficult for the Blues to get much going offensively early on.
In 4 2/3 innings, Mestre gave up the four runs on seven hits and three walks. But all of his effectiveness was in the first four innings, during which he held Bristol scoreless on three hits. The early success came as no surprise - in 4 2/3 innings against the Blues in the regular season, he gave up no runs on just one hit.
By the time the fifth inning rolled around, the Blues were able to figure out Mestre. After Peyton Stephens scored on a wild pitch, Alex Loparco drove in two with a double down the left field lined, followed by an RBI-single by Dylan Reynolds to cap off the four-run rally and knocking Mestre from the game.
Loparco did a little bit of everything for the Blues offense, going 3-for-4, the two RBI and a run scored. He also made two great plays on defense in centerfield, a diving catch in the first inning and a running catch in left-center in the sixth.
“I honestly just try to get on first base when I’m up there,” Loparco said of his mental approach at the plate. “I hate striking out, so anytime I can put the ball in play, I consider it a positive. I just look to keep on moving, and I know these guys are good enough behind me to drive me in.”
The Blues will take on the Bravehearts in a three-game series, which begins today at Fitton Field. Game 2 will be at Muzzy with Game 3 - if necessary - back at Fitton Field. Bristol has had its fair share of struggles in the matchup, going 4-6 against Worcester this season.
“Worcester is a quality team,” Palmer said. “They’ll throw solid arms out there. Them and [Martha’s Vineyard] have the two best offenses, but I think we’ve competed against them. We won four games against them and a couple of games they beat us were tight down to the wire. But I think our boys are playing pretty good ball. We just have to go up, and I use this term over and over - we just have to play clean baseball.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at email@example.com