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 #4, from July 13, 2017 against the Alexandria Aces
The fourth greatest game in Bethesda Big Train history saw the Big Train take on the Alexandria Aces in a high stakes late-season contest. The Aces entered the game with a one-game lead over the Big Train in the Cal Ripken League South Division with five games to go in the regular season.
The Aces had strung together a surprisingly dominant season up to that point in a league which in previous years had been a two-horse race between Big Train and rival Baltimore Redbirds. However, in this mid-July, extra-innings battle, the Aces sought to expand their division lead as the season quickly approached its culmination.
“I still remember the implications of this game,” former Big Train broadcaster Max Wolpoff said. “Alexandria came in a game ahead of the Big Train in the division, and if the Big Train lost this game, then that would have set up next week’s game in Alexandria as a potential south division heavyweight matchup of teams that were so close in record and they would’ve been tied in head-to-head. Big Train had to win this game.”
The Big Train immediately jumped on Aces starter Matthew Brooks in the first inning with a three-spot thanks to RBIs from Kevin Milam (St. Mary’s CA) and Luke Heyer (Kentucky). Heyer struggled early in his time with Big Train, but eventually became one of the Cal Ripken League’s hottest hitters down the stretch.
“(Luke) had started slow, and that just goes to show it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish,” Big Train manager Sal Colangelo said.
The Aces didn’t allow Big Train to settle into a three-run advantage for long, scoring a run in the second and two more in the third off Blake Sanderson (Florida Atlantic) to tie the game at three. Bethesda then jumped right back in front after an RBI hit by Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) in the fourth. The Big Train made a call to the bullpen, after Sanderson threw five innings allowing five hits and three runs.
The Aces plated a run in the seventh to tie the game off Stephen Schoch (UMBC), who came into the game with runners on base. Schoch shut down the next two innings, and with neither team scoring, the game headed to extras.
The Big Train threatened in extras numerous times, but couldn't convert. Meanwhile, Nash Eppard (Bryant) put up zero after zero on the mound for Bethesda, until Mack Nathanson's no-doubt homer in the top of the 15th seemingly put a dagger in Bethesda's hopes. However, the Big Train, with one final shot in the bottom half of the 15th, kept the line moving off a fatigued Aces reliever, Jacob Parker.
Esposito swung and missed at what seemed to be the final strike in the game, but the ball got away, allowing him to reach first. Zach Jancarski (Maryland) followed with a base hit and Bethesda was in business. Things got out of control for the Aces reliever, as he walked Fox Semones (James Madison) and Logan Driscoll (George Mason)consecutively on eight pitches to force in the tying run, bringing James Outman (Sacramento State) to the plate to be a potential hero. Outman swung at the first pitch, sending a shallow fly ball into left-center.
“The ball was up in the air for a while, and while it’s in the air everything is going in slow motion,” then-Big Train Volunteer Coordinator Chris Rogers said.
At first glance, Rogers said, it seemed as if the left fielder made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning. However, Jancarski crossed home and the ball was lying on the ground in left-center.
“Outman was in slow motion running to first, Jancarski was in slow motion coming home, and the fans are slowly turning their heads toward left field to see what happens with the ball, and then when it falls, the crowd just erupted,” Rogers said.
The Big Train won 6-5 in a 15-inning thriller, taking one of the most important games of the 2017 season. The win began an undefeated stretch to close out the season, and they rode this momentum into the playoffs, ultimately capturing a second straight league title.
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