When Chris Monaco (Virginia Tech University) stepped up to bat in the eighth inning, no one expected much of him. The Big Train right-hander hadn’t touched a bat in years, so why would anyone? Monaco took a few hacks, setting the count at 0-2 as he failed to put bat on ball. The Bethesda dugout and fans cheered and laughed as he continued to bat, taking a ball, and then fouling a couple of pitches back to the screen. He let another ball whizz past him. Waiting for the 2-2 pitch, he dug his feet into the dirt of the batter’s box and raised his bat. The pitch sped out of the hand of the Takoma-Silver Spring Thunderbolts pitcher, and Monaco swung, his bat colliding with the ball as a sharp crack filled Blair Stadium. The ball screamed to deep left field, clearing the fence and dropping beside a generator connected to the adjacent firehouse. The dugout went wild. Monaco trotted the bases, a grin on his face as he raised his helmet to the teammates, friends, and fans screaming by the third base dugout. He was batting 1.000.
It took a unique set of circumstances for Monaco to arrive at the plate in the eighth inning. To be exact, it was poor Thunderbolts pitching and explosive Big Train bats in a dominant 27-6 rout by the Bethesda Big Train, in which every member of the starting lineup reached base at least twice. The 27 runs scored set a new all-time record for Bethesda, and the Big Train win, combined with a loss by the Baltimore Redbirds, tied the team for the best record in the league. It also raised Bethesda to first place in the Montgomery Cup standings.
The game began rather inauspiciously, Big Train being set down in order in the top of the first, and the Thunderbolts doing the same, save a double, in the bottom of the frame. Things began to get interesting, however, in the second. Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) led off with a walk, and quickly advanced to second on a ball that got past the Takoma-Silver Spring catcher. Cody Brown (Mississippi State University) promptly singled to right, putting runners at the corners with Justin Morris (University of Maryland) up to bat with no outs. Morris delivered, crushing a towering missile far beyond the ‘315 feet’ sign in right field, putting Big Train on the board with a three-run shot, his first home run of the year. The Thunderbolts failed to answer in the bottom of the frame, and the Big Train was quickly back up to bat in the top of the third.
Big Train essentially won the game in the third, sending 14 batters to the plate and blowing the game wide open by taking a twelve-nothing lead. What was perhaps most remarkable about the inning was that every run was scored with two outs. The second batter of the inning, Clayton Daniel (Jacksonville State University) singled to left, and a batter later Esposito drilled a homer over the left field fence, scoring them both. The next eight batters all reached base, five via a double. After Daniel scored for the second time in the inning, this time on an Allen Smoot (University of San Francisco) double, the Thunderbolts finally removed pitcher Cole Benjamin (University of Delaware) from the game. His final line was 12 runs (10 earned) on 2 ⅔ innings pitched. T-Bolts third baseman Eddie Peguero (Montgomery College) moved to the mound and, after plunking Esposito on the hip with his second pitch of the season, managed to stop the bleeding by getting Brown to fly out to the first baseman in foul territory.
Big Train struck again in the fourth, tacking on three more runs on singles by Logan Farrar (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Smoot and an RBI fielder’s choice by Daniel.
“I think it’s just the guys ready to go,” assistant coach David Del Grande said of the offensive explosion. “Heading into the playoffs… these guys are ready to roll at the end of the season. You could see it all throughout the lineup, and today it was just contagious from the start. It was good to see guys attack early in the count and get aggressive.”
Bethesda pitcher Sean Barry (University of San Diego), who had been cruising through his first four innings of work, ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth, when the Thunderbolts threatened for the first time in the game. Barry got the first two batters out without much trouble, but after that things began to get hairy. The next batter walked, and then advanced to second on a single down the third base line that was just barely fair. Barry then issued another walk, loading the bases for Thunderbolts first baseman Paul Burmester (Catholic University). Burmester worked the count full and then ripped a double to left field, scoring two and putting the Thunderbolts on the board. Barry allowed two more runs before striking out Peguero to escape the inning.
“[Barry] got up there in his pitch count,” Del Grande said. “He was fine the first couple of innings… but it got up there and you could see him start to tail off a little bit.”
Barry did not return after the fifth, instead being replaced successively by Alex Calvert (Erskine College), Blaine Lafin (Virginia Military Institute), and Stephen Schoch (Appalachian State University). Calvert and Schoch each pitched a scoreless, hitless inning, while Lafin allowed the only other T-Bolts run of the night one hit over two innings.
“They came in and did a fine job,” Del Grande said of the relievers. “When you’re pitching in a game like this, it’s easy to come in and not be ready to go out there and throw, but our guys did a good job of staying focused and getting the job done.”
Big Train scored two more runs in the eighth off of Monaco’s homerun.
“It was a fun part of the game,” Del Grande laughed. “I mean, he was ready to go. He’s been asking [to bat] the last couple days, and was given the chance, and he definitely took advantage of it.”
Monaco also drove in the last run of the game with an RBI walk (Big Train’s fourth free pass of the inning) in the ninth.
Big Trains’ next game is Thursday at 6:30 PM at Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore, where they will face off against the rival Redbirds.
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