By Daniel Gallen
Special to The Dagger
The Aberdeen IronBirds took the rubber match of their season-opening three-game set with Hudson Valley on Sunday night, posting a 4-0 shutout behind great pitching and timely hitting.
Starter Justin Moore (1-0) pitched into the sixth inning and allowed no runs to earn the win, outpitching his Renegade counterpart Wilmer Almonte (0-1), who only lasted 4-1/3 innings and gave up two unearned runs.
Designated hitter Michael Flacco got the IronBirds (2-1) on the board in the bottom of the third when he singled home second baseman L.J. Hoes. Hoes had led off the inning by lofting a shallow pop fly into center field off Almonte. But Renegades shortstop Bennett Davis misjudged the ball’s path and saw it carom out of his glove. Hoes, hustling all the way, made it into second safely. After a sacrifice fly by rightfielder Tyler Kolodny that advanced Hoes to third, Flacco made the score 1-0 on a single to center.
Flacco went 1-for-3 with an RBI, walk, and strikeout in the game, but looks to improve his performance.
“It was nice to get that one to drop in and get a hit and an RBI, but I struck out again tonight, which I don’t like striking out,” Flacco said. “The guy gave me four curveballs and I thought he was coming back with a fastball eventually and I just couldn’t slow myself up enough.”
Hudson Valley (1-2) saw a great chance to strike back in the top of the fifth inning, putting runners on second and third with two outs, but Justin Moore struck out leftfielder Brian Bryles on three straight pitches to end the threat.
The IronBirds took advantage of the Hudson Valley failure and added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth in a sequence that was again catalyzed by Hoes. Hoes led off the inning with a double to right which forced Almonte from the game. Reliever Kyle Ayers came in and got leftfielder Kipp Schutz to groundout, which advanced Hoes to third. With Kolodny at-bat, Renegades catcher Alejandro Torres allowed a passed ball one of Ayers’ pitches which got far enough away from him that Hoes could advance home and give Aberdeen a 2-0 lead.
After a walk to Hudson Valley second baseman Elias Otero and a single by leftielder Burt Reynolds in the top of the sixth, Moore left the game and was relieved by lefthander Brandon Holloway. Holloway came in and got third baseman Nick Schwaner to ground into a fielder’s choice before inducing a 1-6-3 double play off the bat of first baseman Steve Tinoco to end Hudson Valley’s scoring threat.
The final two runs of the ball game came in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings. In the bottom of the seventh, shortstop Michael Rooney reached base on a fielding error by Tinoco who was not able to corral a throw from Davis. Hoes flied out to deep right field before Schutz executed a perfect hit and run, pushing the ball into right field and advancing Rooney to third.
The next batter, Kolodny, continued his impressive performance at the plate this series, hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Rooney, advance Schutz to second, and give the IronBirds a 3-0 lead. Flacco struck out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, leadoff batter and centerfielder Jeremy Nowak doubled to left field to start another big inning for the IronBirds. After first baseman David Anderson struck out, third baseman Adam Gayloard singled to left to advance Nowak to third. Catcher Joe Oliveira struck out, but Rooney followed him up with a single to centerfield to score Rooney and give the game its 4-0 final.
Nowak, a 13th-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles out of Mount Olive College, felt good about his first professional series. “I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “It was a good start to the career.”
Although he is currently playing Class A baseball, Nowak is still excited to be in a professional farm system. “For me I always wanted to have the opportunity to play professionally and everything is just a dream come true right now,” he said.
Despite the 4-0 victory, Aberdeen still missed opportunities to add more runs to the final total in the bottom of the first and the bottom of the sixth. The IronBirds loaded the bases to start the game off Almonte behind a Hoes single and walks by Kolodny and Flacco. However, the team was not able to capitalize as Nowak grounded out to second to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, Anderson drew a two out walk off of Ayers before Gaylord doubled to send Anderson to third. Oliveira was not able to drive them home, stranding them on a groundout to the pitcher.
The IronBirds pitching, starting with Moore and continuing with relievers Holloway, T.R. Keating, and David Walters, stymied the Renegades’ bats all game long. Moore’s final line showed five innings, no runs, four walks, and five strikeouts. The three relievers each allowed one hit during the final four innings of play.
“I felt good today,” Moore said. “When I was in the bullpen, everything felt great. I was working with my catcher, he was throwing signs down, I liked what he was calling so I went with it.”
Manager Gary Kendall complimented Moore’s pitching. “He did a nice job, kept the ball down,” Kendall said. “He was able to hold runners well. They’re a good team and they like to run.”
Moore felt like the key to his performance tonight was his ability to get first pitch strikes over the plate and get ahead on the hitters. Moore said, “It’s real important to get a first pitch strike because you don’t want to fall behind in the zone because then you have to throw a pitch in there that he could maybe hit over the wall or hit it for a double and then you got no outs, runner on second and you can’t even get a double play.”
Flacco enjoyed Moore’s pitching performance despite not being on the field. “It’s awesome when the pitcher just gets in there and throws strikes,” he said. “It makes the game feel so much quicker and just keeps everyone in the game.”
Nowak is keeping everything in perspective. “I feel like I was a little anxious at times but we came out with wins,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
The IronBirds travel to New York on Monday for two games against the Brooklyn Cyclones on before meeting the Staten Island Yankees for a three-game set starting Wednesday. The IronBirds starters in the Brooklyn series will be lefthander Tyler Sexton, who led the IronBirds in innings pitched and strikeouts in 2009, and righthander Tim Adleman, a 24th-round draft pick in the 2010 MLB Draft out of Georgetown. Blake Mechaw, a lefthander, will start the first game of the Staten Island series.
For the road trip, Flacco is just looking for “good, solid at-bats” and “nice, hard contact.”
“I don’t try to get into the expectations of things because when you say, ‘I want to get a couple of hits’ you usually end up pressing and doing worse,” he said.
Kendall feels that Sunday’s performance created momentum that will help carry over into the road trip. “Sometimes they don’t realize the importance of a good clean win and what it can do for your ball club,” he said.