Nick Cleckler (Lipscomb) drove in the go-ahead run in extra-innings.
Top Ten Thursdays is a weekly bigtrain.tv show that highlights the top 10 games in Bethesda Big Train history, as voted on by team historian Bill Hickman, manager Sal Colangelo and founder Bruce Adams. As each game is unveiled, we will bring you a written flashback here in on bigtrain.org.
Host Alex Drain, with the help of Colangelo and various guests, will break down each game, as those involved discuss what they remember and the significance of each contest. Each episode will serve as a flashback to classic moments in Big Train history, in lieu of actual games during the 2020 summer.
Today, we look at Game #10, from July 31, 2005 against the Rockville Express.
As the inaugural season of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League came to a close, the Bethesda Big Train found themselves in the midst of teams vying for the 2005 regular season championship. Their path to obtaining the crown was simple: with three games remaining, the Big Train needed three wins.
With each opponent wanting to play spoiler, the Big Train had no room for error. In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Rockville Express nearly put Bethesda’s title hopes to bed, but an extra-inning boost on July 31, 2005, inched the Big Train another game closer to the season championship.
Just the day before, in the 14th greatest game in Big Train history, Jonnie Knoble’s (San Francisco) walk-off RBI in the bottom of the tenth inning lifted Bethesda to a 7-6 victory over the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts. The final three games weren’t going to be easy, and the T-Bolts proved just that.
But as the Big Train battled the Express, one thing became clear: While not every team was challenging for the title, pride was on the line to take down one of the top dogs in the CRCBL’s first season. The intense rivalry present between the Express and Big Train added fuel to the fire in what would be an energetic ending.
“Bethesda Big Train is the New York Yankees of summer baseball,” manager Sal Colangelo said on Thursday’s show. “Everybody wants to play in Bethesda, everybody wants to beat the Big Train, and [Rockville Express] took it to another level. It was exciting every time we played them.”
The Big Train came in at 23-15 and started trusted pitcher Derek Caldwell (Rider) against the Express, who sat at an even 19-19. After a scoreless first inning, Bethesda broke the deadlock in the top of the second when Bryan Thomas (Virginia Tech) scored following a throwing error.
In the fourth, Big Train’s Ken Beamer (Findlay) and Greg Lemon (Salisbury) reached base after each hit singles, and a throwing error by the Rockville pitcher
allowed both to score, extending the Bethesda lead to 3-0.
In the bottom frame of the inning, the Express cut the deficit to two, but Bethesda answered with another run of their own in the top of the seventh to make it 4-1. Going into the bottom of the eighth down three, Rockville needed a spark to continue its hopes of playing spoiler. With the bases loaded, Mike Murphy’s two-RBI single pulled the Express within one. The upset watch was alive and well.
With runners on first and third, Big Train pitcher Brett Tidball (Maryland) picked off the runner at first, but a well-placed hit to left field brought home the tying run, notching the game at four apiece.
Neither team could find the winning run in the ninth, sending the game to extras. Lemon opened the top of the tenth with a single — his fourth of the game — and then advanced to second via a rare Rhett Teller (Saint Leo) sacrifice bunt. After Andrew Smith (San Francisco) was intentionally walked, Thomas singled to juice the bases.
“I was praying, because Rhett, I don’t think he’s ever bunted in his life,” Colangelo said. “We still laugh about that. Sometimes as a coach, you go with your gut. I just knew Rhett coming up, if he can get it down, we have a chance to get him over.”
Then, the Big Train started rolling.
Nick Cleckler (Lipscomb) drove home Lemon and Drew Carson (Southern Mississippi) hit a sac fly to center to score Smith. Thomas made it 7-4 on a passed ball, showing the clutch gene and mental toughness of the Bethesda squad that did everything it needed to obtain the 2005 regular season crown.
Big Train closer Wyatt Stewart (Richmond) gave up two singles in the bottom half of the 10th, but eventually earned his sixth save of the season. The win over Rockville meant the Big Train were one win away from the CRCBL season title, with only one game remaining in the regular season.
“We really had a true blue-collar, just work a day, group of guys, tremendous bullpen, and we had a good defense as well,” Lemon said. “We really had a great group, a fun group, and I’m glad to see that the sort of foundations we laid in ‘04 and ‘05 have been carried on now for 15 years.”
This Thursday on bigtrain.tv, Drain will highlight Game #9, which took place in July 2004.