BRISTOL - Heading into Thursday nightâ€™s game with the Pittsfield Suns, the Bristol Blues were locked in a tie with the Brockton Rox for second place in the FCBL and were 1 Â˝ games behind the North Shore Navigators for the leagueâ€™s top spot.Â
Thatâ€™s why veteran first baseman Dylan Reynolds, the only returning player from the 2018 Blues roster, gave some of the guys a quick reminder of how critical pulling out a win over the Suns would be, as it would put the team one step closer to a top-two finish in the league and a first-round playoff bye to avoid a win-or-go-home play-in game Monday.Â
Behind three huge defensive plays from right fielder Brandon Miller, Shane Bogliâ€™s strong second start with the team and some key offense from a lineup that bounced back after being no-hit the previous night, the Blues left Muzzy Field with a 6-4 victory that puts them within a half-game of North Shore with two games left in the regular season.Â
â€śIt was something small, but they know,â€ť Reynolds said of his brief pregame message to his teammates. â€śWe have leadership with everybody one through nine. â€¦ Weâ€™re sitting good where we are right now, and if we win these next two games - tonight was a big first step - we can lock up that one or two seed and get homefield advantage with a bye. That would be huge for our pitching. It gives us an extra little rest and extra little advantage over everybody else.â€ť
After the game, Reynolds also boasted about his teammate Miller, who on Wednesday was named a finalist for league MVP. Miller earned that designation almost exclusively through his offense, but on Thursday, it was his defense proving just as prevalent.
First came Millerâ€™s long, high-arcing outfield assist from deep in foul ground to end the first inning on a play at the plate, the right-handerâ€™s throw coming into catcher Will Reiner in plenty of time to tag out Matt Valente.Â
Miller then unleashed a line-drive bullet to cut down Dylan Faircloth at home to end the fifth, and his running, sliding catch in foul territory helped the Blues hold the Suns to a two-run seventh inning in which they cut their 5-1 deficit to two.Â
â€ś[Millerâ€™s] one of the greatest all-around players in the league, for sure, and that MVP candidate is an honest and true candidacy,â€ť Reynolds said. â€śHe really earned it from the first day he got here until now. Like we said, if heâ€™s having an off night, two or three guys pick him up. Thatâ€™s what itâ€™s all about, and he picked us up in the field big time tonight.â€ť
Millerâ€™s play to blank the Suns (27-25) in the first led to a 2-0 lead in the bottom half, as Reynolds kept his bat hot by pushing an opposite-field RBI double to left, and he came around on Buddy Dewaineâ€™s infield single. Kasey Bass built on the two-run lead in the fourth by driving an RBI single up the middle before the Blues added two more runs in the inning.
After his team added an insurance run, reliever Spencer Fox gave up one run in the eighth before stranding runners at the corners by dropping in two curveballs for strikeouts, and the Blues (29-23) held off a final charge as Bogli - three runs allowed (one earned) on nine hits in 6 â…” innings - gave way to Fox and eventually James Judenis, who earned his first save in his first relief appearance of the summer by closing out the ninth.Â
â€śIt was a high-pressured situation, and your adrenalineâ€™s going,â€ť Judenis said. â€śI knew I was up in the bullpen this game so I was kind of thinking it would happen. To be honest, I thought [Spencer] Fox was gonna close it out, but he got in a little bit of trouble. I wasnâ€™t too shocked, but itâ€™s good knowing they trust me in that situation.â€ť
After being the victim of a Worcester Bravehearts no-hitter in game two of a Wednesday doubleheader, the Bluesâ€™ bats were able to bounce back with eight hits Thursday.Â
â€śItâ€™s not any pressure on any of us,â€ť Blues left fielder Christian Beal said. â€śWe just know as a collective unit, weâ€™ve gotta hit. Today, we scored six runs. Thatâ€™s us. Weâ€™re gonna put up five or six runs a game. If we continue to do that, Pittsfield, Brockton, North Shore, Worcester, theyâ€™ve gotta watch out.â€ť
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org