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 #9, from July 30, 2004 against the Herndon Braves.
The Herndon Braves met the Big Train at Shirley Povich Field for this late July game. The stakes were high as ever, as the Big Train entered the game tied with Herndon for the lead in the regular season standings. Winning the regular season title would be huge for Bethesda, as then-assistant coach Sal Colangelo put it: “We had come so close every year … we just felt this was our year.”
Casey Baron (Maryland) started the game on the mound for the Big Train, facing off against a strong Herndon offense. The game remained scoreless until the top of the third, when the Braves plated a run on a walk and two singles. An inning later, the Braves increased their lead to 3-0 on a solo homer and a bases-loaded walk.
After plating one in the fourth, Big Train brought the score to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth when Jonnie Knoble (San Francisco) stepped up, as he had many times before for this team, doubling and then coming around to score.
“The one thing in common from these important games in the era when we played is Jonnie’s in the middle of it somewhere, either on defense, baserunning or offensively,” noted teammate Greg Lemon (Salisbury).
Russell Durfee (Duke) then entered the game to relieve Baron. Colangelo stated that bringing in Durfee was an attempt to get the Herndon offense “off-balance”. This strategy proved effective as he allowed only one hit, three walks and no runs over 3 ⅔ innings.
Still down 3-2, Bethesda’s moment to take the lead finally came in the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out, Andrew Smith (San Francisco) singled and stole second; he then advanced to third when the following batter grounded out. Then with two outs, Smith sped home on a wild pitch to tie the game.
“To Andrew Smith there’s only one type of game, and that’s one that you try to win,” Lemon said.
With the game tied 3-3 and two outs in the frame, the Braves turned to their lethal reliever, Dustin Pease. The left-hander, however, was no match for Big Train designated hitter Justin Martin (Florida Atlantic), who doubled off the right field fence, plating Trey Cuevas (Southern Mississippi) to put the Big Train up 4-3.
Bethesda brought relief pitcher David Hayes (Florida Atlantic) to the mound to secure the win, with an assist from Knoble in center field. Knoble caught a deep fly and took a shot at the Braves’ runner tagging from second. His throw bounced perfectly to Smith at third, to end the inning and squash the threat.
Hayes sealed the win for the Big Train in the bottom of the ninth, retiring Herndon in order to close the game.
Following this exciting win, Bethesda moved one game up in the standings with only two games remaining in regular season play. The Big Train went on to come in first in the regular season standings, then topping it off by capturing the postseason championship for the first time in franchise history, in what would be their final season in the Clark Griffith League. It was a “breakout season” for Big Train, Colangelo noted, as it established them as a standout team in the nation.
Next Thursday on bigtrain.tv, Drain will highlight Game #8, which took place in July 2009.