By Rob Patrick
Back when Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner were playing their famous “You’re-fired, you’re-hired” routine in the heady days of the New York Yankees’ late ‘70’s run to three straight World Series, the team was going through a bit of a slide, struggling to score runs. George was making noises like he was going to fire Billy — again — so Martin decided to try something drastic and, depending on your point of view, crazy or brilliant.
He put the names of all of his starters in a hat and had an assistant draw. The Yankees, he declared, would bat in whatever order the names were drawn even if Reggie Jackson had to bat ninth.
He didn’t, but the lineup was shaken considerably and, lo and behold, the Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-6.
(A couple of months later, Martin and Jackson would have their nationally-televised shouting match in the dugout but the Yanks went on to win the World Series. Halfway through the next season, he’d be fired again and the Yankees still went on to win the Series.)
All of that is to illustrate to what extremes baseball managers, in frustration, will go to stop a slump. It’s anybody’s guess about why they occur and just as much guesswork regarding how to snap out of them.[more]
Which brings us around to the slumping Bryant Hornets who, on Tuesday night, lost their third game in a row, 2-1, to the Russellville Cyclones at Bryant High School Field. A solo home run by Russellville’s Matt Lutz in the top of the fifth proved to be the difference.
For the second game in a row, the Hornets were limited to three hits. Since a five-run, four-hit third inning at Van Buren on Thursday, April 1, the Hornets have scored three runs with seven hits over 18 innings. Over the last 21 innings, they have scored in just three frames.
Now 2-2 in the 7A-Central Conference, Bryant heads to Conway to play the rival Wampus Cats on Thursday. With the reported results in the rest of the conference on a topsy-turvy Tuesday, had the Hornets been able to win, they would’ve moved into a tie for first place with Van Buren after the Pointers suffered their first league loss, 1-0, to Little Rock Catholic, which won its first conference game. As it stands, with Cabot defeating North Little Rock, 3-0, and Little Rock Central edging Conway 7-6, everybody other than Van Buren and Catholic stands tied for second at 2-2.
But more immediately, the Hornets’ search to regain their stride on offense continues.
Billy Martin-style gimmicks aside, Bryant head coach Kirk Bock asserted, “We’ll just keep working. Relax, keep working. And these kids work hard. We’re just not squaring the ball up right now for whatever reason. But we’ll figure it out. I know if any group I’ve ever had was going to work through something, it’s going to be this one right here. And, as long as our pitching and defense stays intact and keeps doing what they’re doing, when we start hitting again, we’re going to be a team to reckon with. We’ll get there.”
Indeed, on the heels of a solid pitching performance by Blake Davidson in a 4-2 loss at Lake Hamilton on Saturday, the Hornets got another one from Caleb Milam on Tuesday with seventh-inning relief help from Ben Wells.
Through six innings, Milam allowed two runs on four hits without a walk, striking out six. He made just two mistakes. In the fourth, with a runner at second and two down, his 2-2 pitch for clean-up hitter Eric Sanchez was flared into center for an RBI single.
Sanchez had three of his team’s six hits in the game.
The other pitch Milam would no doubt like back was the first delivery of the fifth which Lutz touched for a homer to center.
Along the way, the junior right-hander was helped by center fielder Garrett Bock who made two spectacular catches at the fence. Both were diving grabs. The first robbed Keith Dove of extra bases in the third. The second robbed Hayden Hipps of what might’ve been an inside-the-park homer, particulary when Bock got his leg caught in the fence in left-center as he made the grab.
Usually, Milam’s performance would be enough for victory, but the Hornets just couldn’t muster much against Russellville’s Logan Emery.
The only run came in the third when B.J. Ellis was hit by a pitch and, an out later, Garrett Bock bounced into a force at second. The relay to first was rushed and wild allowing Bock to take second. Moments later, Hunter Mayall, who had two of his team’s three hits, muscled a blooper into center for an RBI single.
Mayall took second on a late throw to the plate then advanced to third on a passed ball but was stranded.
The Hornets had a couple of other opportunities to score. In the first, Brennan Bullock, usually the clean-up hitter who, for this game, traded spots in the line-up with lead-off man Chris Joiner, beat out an infield hit. He stole second and Bock was walked. Mayall, trying to get a sacrifice bunt down, looped a bunt past the third baseman. But Emery chased after the ball onto the skin portion of the infield between third and short. He got to it and flipped to third just in time to get a force on Bullock.
A strikeout and a groundout followed as Emery wriggled off the hook.
Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, the Hornets got a lift from Mayall’s second hit, a one-out double to the fence in left. Joiner followed with a swinging bunt that Hipp, the Russellville catcher, pounced on. But, inexplicably, Hipp threw to third to try to get Mayall. The throw was late and the Hornets had runners at the corners with one out and the team’s top RBI man, sophomore Jordan Taylor at the plate. Taylor connected on an 0-1 delivery but grounded it right to James Reasoner, the Cyclones’ second sacker. He proceeded to start and inning-ending doubleplay.
In the seventh, Milam was greeted by Sanchez’s third single then a double by Branden Turner. Wells came on at that point and retired the side, fanning two and, in between, getting an out on a grounder to Taylor at short with the infield drawn in.
“Milam did a great job,” Coach Bock asserted. “Wellsy came in and did an excellent job getting us out of a jam.”
Brady Butler battled for a walk to start the bottom of the seventh. Tyler Brown got a bunt down but Emery fielded his position, whirled and threw in time to second to get a force. Pinch-hitter Landon Pickett got just under a 2-1 delivery and skied to center then so did B.J. Ellis, whose fly to left-center was flagged down by Frank Chiliono, the far-ranging left fielder, who cut tantalizingly close (for the Hornets) in front of Cory Jones in center to end the game.
The Hornets are now 15-4 overall this season.
CYCLONES 2, HORNETS 1
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Chiolino, lf 3 1 1 0 Bullock, lf 3 0 1 0
Hipps, c 3 0 0 0 Bock, cf 2 1 0 0
Berginske, 3b 3 0 0 0 Mayall, dh 3 0 2 1
Sanchez, ss 3 0 3 1 Daniel, pr 0 0 0 0
Mizes, pr 0 0 0 0 Joiner, 2b 3 0 0 0
Turner, 1b 3 0 1 0 Taylor, ss 3 0 0 0
Campbell, pr 0 0 0 0 Butler, 1b 2 0 0 0
Lutz, rf 3 1 1 1 Wilson, pr 0 0 0 0
Reasoner, 2b 3 0 0 0 Brown, 3b 3 0 0 0
Dove, dh 3 0 0 0 Jobe, pr 0 0 0 0
Emery, p 2 0 0 0 Garrett, rf 2 0 0 0
Jones, cf 0 0 0 0 Pickett, ph 1 0 0 0
Ellis, c 2 0 0 0
Daniel, cr 0 0 0 0
Milam, p 0 0 0 0
Wells, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 26 2 6 2 Totals 24 1 3 1
Russellville 000 110 0 — 2
BRYANT 001 000 0 — 1
E—Sanchez. DP—Russellville 1. LOB—Russellville 3, Bryant 5. 2B—Mayall, Turner. SB—Bullock.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Emery (W) 7 1 0 3 2 4
Milam (L) 6 2 2 6 0 6
Wells 1 0 0 0 0 2
Milam faced two batters in the seventh.
HPB—Ellis (by Emery). PB—Ellis.