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 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 #5, from July 31, 2016 against the Baltimore Redbirds.
The fifth greatest game in Bethesda Big Train history pitted the Big Train against longtime rival, the Baltimore Redbirds, in a game three, winner-take-all battle for the 2016 Cal Ripken League Championship. The Big Train was eager to capture the title, as the team had not done so since 2011, losing to the Redbirds in four straight championship series.
“The Redbirds had won the championship so many years in a row and we wanted to reverse that,” former Big Train General Manager David Schneider said. “So that was the goal going into the year: win a championship.”
The series had been played in dramatic fashion leading up to game three. The Big Train edged out the Redbirds in the first game of the series, at home on Friday night, so the series shifted to Baltimore for the final two games with Bethesda holding a 1-0 advantage. Rain would delay the second game in Baltimore halfway through, leaving the teams to pick up the game Sunday. The delay put a halt in the Big Train’s rally, and the Redbirds were able to pick up the win, evening the series and setting up a decisive game three later that afternoon.
As the visiting team, the Big Train would have their work cut out for them, having lost all three previous games played at the Redbirds’ field, Calvert Hall, including game two just hours before.
Baltimore took the lead in the first after Big Train starter Johnny York (St. Mary's CA) surrendered a double that came around to score. They held that 1-0 lead until the fourth inning when Clayton Daniel (Jacksonville State) started a Bethesda rally. Daniel advanced to first after being hit by a pitch, bringing Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) to the plate.
“[Esposito] had one of the most phenomenal hitting streaks that I’ve seen at any level, he was hitting the ball out of the park constantly. It seemed like every time he came up to bat there was a chance he was going to put one over the fence” noted former Big Train broadcaster Kyle Brown.
Esposito stepped up big, hitting a double off the center field wall, sending Daniel to third. Cody Brown (Mississippi State) continued the charge with a single, plating both Daniel and Esposito and giving the Big Train their first lead of the game. The rally continued for the Big Train, as catcher Austin Hale (Stetson) hit a bases-loaded, two-out, two-run single to give Big Train a 4-1 lead.
York pitched six innings allowing only two runs, and turned the ball over to right-hander Drew Strotman (St. Mary’s CA) with a 4-2 lead.
Strotman surrendered a home run in the eighth, bringing the score to 4-3, but avoided further trouble. He went back out for the ninth, with all eyes on him, as he needed just three outs to capture the championship. The tying run reached second, but manager Sal Colangelo stuck with Strotman and he delivered, striking out the final two batters of the game to seal the victory for the Big Train.
“At the time I was very slider heavy with my best pitch, so that was always going to be working. I probably gave the homerun up on a fastball, and then when it came down to a pressure situation at the end of the game I would lean heavily on the slider. I remember specifically the last batter of the game was just pretty much all sliders” noted Strotman.
The Big Train won the game 4-3 and had captured the elusive Cal Ripken Championship over the Redbirds. This would go on to be the first of four straight Cal Ripken League championships for the Big Train.
Stay tuned to bigtrain.tv for more content and weekly shows. This Thursday, Drain will highlight Game #4, which took place in July 2017.
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