What a Relief: Champion Mudcats Claw Back to Win Opener

Apr 25, 2018 1:13 PM
Douglas B. Brill

Reliever "Pop Pop" Palumbo puts up zeroes as bats bring the 'Cats back.

These ’Cats know how to claw their way back.

The defending champion Springtown Mudcats shook off a disastrous start and came from behind to defeat the Gorilla A's in an 11-10 barn burner on Sunday in the Lehigh Valley Men's Baseball League Game of the Week.

The Mudcats had just a bit more offense -- and an ace relief performance -- in 43+ Division action at Moore Township Park, a beautifully renovated field that A’s Manager Donnie Buskirk helped bring back into the league.

“It was a great start to the season with a win ... especially the comeback win! It’s always a dogfight when we play the A’s. They’re a very talented team with a bunch of nice guys,” Mudcats Manager-Player Jamy Ritter said.

The Mudcats’ starting pitching and defense faltered, combining to allow 10 runs in the first three innings, before relief pitcher Dave "Pop Pop" Palumbo took over. Palumbo’s four shutout innings bided enough time for the Mudcats make the comeback.

“Palumbo was outstanding in relief. Working ahead in the count and getting a big pickoff,” Ritter said.

“Our starting pitcher didn’t pitch poorly. Our team defense was pretty shoddy in the first few innings and then they got some timely two out hits,” Ritter added.

Let’s just say the defense froze. After the Winter That Wouldn’t Go Away, a number of teams entered their openers less prepared than they might have liked. Crooked numbers dotted scoreboards all across the LV MSBL’s first full day of games.

And the Mudcats defense, for their part, played like fish -- until it mattered the most. After plating three in the top of the final inning to take a one-run lead, the Mudcats finally got their gloves working.

When the A’s leadoff hitter reached as the would-be tying run, Palumbo picked him off. Then when the next A reached, second baseman Luis Vazquez and shortstop Julio Lebron turned a game-ending double play.

Six Mudcats had multiple hits, paced by three hits – including two doubles and three RBI – from, according to Ritter, “a sleeker, slimmer, grayer” Keith Hawk. Newcomers Mike Pychinka (two doubles) and Carlos Cotto, as well as Mitch Ohl, Herb Yocum, and Ritter had two knocks apiece. Palumbo helped his own cause with the only other Mudcats hit.

After falling behind 10-4 after three innings, the Mudcats needed every one of them.

Elsewhere ...

Elliot Freeman homered for the third time in the last four Opening Days -- and it was a grand slam -- to help the UMB Pirates split a doubleheader with the DM Palmisano Sanitation Rangers in a rematch of the 2017 Black & Blue Division championship. Darren Whitmore spun a one-hit shutout in Game 1 for the defending champion Rangers.

It was the first full Sunday of action after a lingering winter that left little time to prepare, and the bats were ahead of the pitching and defense across the league. Thirteen out of 20 games featured at least one team in double-figure runs. The Mudcats win was one of two games that featured both teams in double-digits; the 25 Pirates defeated the 25 Kings 12-11.

The new royal baby was born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Monday. Good thing, because Sunday wasn’t the day for royalty. In addition to the 25 Kings loss, the 55 Kings dropped both sides of a split doubleheader with the Dodgers and Giants. The 18 Kings and 25 Royals were thankfully off.

The Defending 25 National Division champion Indians look like contenders once again, handling the Volpe’s Orioles 12-1. They may have their hands full with the FOP White Sox who cruised to a 12-0 win over the Maroons behind ace Adam Maini who struck out 9 in 5 shutout innings.

The notoriously slow-starting Thunder are at it again. They dropped their opener 8-7 against the Cardinals in 25 National Division action. The four-time champions have started cold before only to make their way back. As recently as last season the Thunder dug a big hole and made it to the championship series anyway.

Scott McGowan hit a two-run homerun and Mike Pastor threw five strong innings as the Bethlehem Cyclones swept a doubleheader from the Bulldogs in the 25 American Division.

The Emmaus Athletics rode some offseason acquisitions to a 13-1 win over the Reds. East Stroudsburg University graduate Eric Boyer hit a 395-foot two-run homer, and Cooper Michael struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced before being pulled after 3 no-hit innings.

The Northampton Kids, defending 18 National Division champs, blitzed into their new digs in the Premier Division with a doubleheader sweep of the Hurricanes, who also made their Premier Division debut.

The Premier Division Rays fortified their roster in the offseason and swept the Nationals in a doubleheader, bringing the Rays within one win of their total for all of 2017.

The 43 American champion Diamondbacks were slow out of the gate dropping their opener 13-1 to the 43 Hurricanes; the Bucks won their LV MSBL debut 5-1 over the Patriots in the 55 Division; and the Three Mugs Pub Moondogs remained flawless in their LV MSBL return, dropping the Riegelsville Reds 12-7.

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