PEABODY, Mass. -- With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and runners on second and third, Danvers coach Roger Day made the decision to intentionally walk Peabody’s leadoff hitter Genaro Ciulla.
That brought up Casey Grenier, with the bases loaded, to face Ray Arocho. After quickly getting ahead in the count 0-2, Arocho’s third pitch hit home plate and bounced away from his catcher, Joe Strangie.
The blunder allowed Steven Leavitt to score from third and give No. 13 Peabody the come-from-behind, 3-2 victory.
Over the first five innings, Arocho gave up only one run and three hits. The only blemish on his scorebook over that period came in the first inning, when back-to-back errors by third baseman Nick Valles put runners on first and third.
Arocho, being a left-handed pitcher, makes his most effective pickoff move to first base. In the bottom of the first, he made a series of pickoff attempts to first to try and catch Stephen Girolamo away from the bag.
Eventually, he caught Girolamo in the midst of stealing, which started a rundown between first and second. Seeing this, Bobby Losanno ran home from third base and scored before Girolamo was tagged out.
In the top of the first, Arocho gave himself a cushion when he hit a home run off Peabody (9-3) righthander Patrick Ruotolo. With a 1-0 count and a runner on, Ruotolo threw a belt-high fastball and Arocho put it over the 340 feet sign in right-center field to give Danvers (9-3) the quick 2-0 lead.
“I missed my spot,” said Ruotolo. “It was supposed to be low and away fastball, and I threw it basically right down the middle high. It’s his favorite pitch to hit. The kid is a good hitter. I just made one mistake and didn’t really look back from that.”
Peabody caught a break in the sixth that tied the game. After Arocho walked Losano with two outs, Girolamo ripped a line drive to center field that was falling fast. In a valiant attempt to make a play, Anthony Garron dove at the ball, but it bounced away in front of his glove and continued to roll toward the wall.
Losano scored all the way from first to tie the game. With momentum on its side, Peabody scored in the final frame and won a game it never led until that final moment.
“I couldn’t be happier with my team’s effort,” said Day. “The kids battled hard and to have a chance in the sixth inning up a run with nobody on, I couldn’t ask for anything more. We just didn’t close it out. We’re one pitch away from getting out of that and we’ll see what happens.”
Ruotolo Resonates: While the bigger story from the game may have been Arocho’s control of the Peabody lineup, but Ruotolo should be credited for keeping his team in the game while its bats were silent.
He struck out eight batters and allowed only two hits over six innings after surrendering the home run. He had one-two-three innings in four of the six.
“I just kept thinking, ‘I hope Pat doesn’t get a loss on a first inning mistake,” said Peabody coach Mark Bettencourt. “The whole game I’m thinking, I’m hoping that’s not going to be the reason this game ends with us losing is Pat making one mistake to Arocho in that first inning leaving a fastball up.
“Obviously you saw the way the kid competed on the mound. He’s a phenomenal, phenomenal competitor. You walk away from that game, and I’m saying to myself, ‘I don’t care how we won that game,’ I’m just happy that Pat Ruotolo, who I think threw a gem today, didn’t pick up a loss on one mistake. That would have been criminal if that happened, so I thank the baseball gods for helping us out there at the end.”
Wednesday was not Ruotolo’s first time pitching, so he was well aware that pitchers need to have a short memory after giving up big hits, especially when his team was not helping him much offensively.
“I wanted to work fast and get my pitch count lower because in the first inning my pitch count was pretty high due to the home run,” he said. “I wanted to try and get one or two pitch outs and it worked pretty well. My fielders backed me up pretty well.”
The two pitchers shared a moment of mutual respect towards the end of the game. During a prolonged stoppage in play, Arocho came off the mound and headed towards the Peabody on-deck circle, where Ruotolo was standing talking to a teammate. Arocho extended his arm and the two high-fived, a show of respect between two players who know each other and what they bring to the baseball diamond.
“We’re buddies,” said Ruotolo. “I said to him, ‘Uh, you just had to hit that home run didn’t you?’ The game would have been quicker if he didn’t. I’ve known him for a while though, he’s one of my friends.”
Master Lock: Arocho did something rarely seen in a baseball game at any level: he picked off four runners. Each time, he caught the runner in the process of trying to steal second. Even after throwing over to first multiple times, the runners would still try to steal second. Then Arocho would throw to first, and the first baseman would throw up to second and the shortstop caught the ball and waited patiently for the runner to slide into the bag.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” said Bettencourt. “Danvers is a very well-coached team. They know we run. How many times did Arocho throw over to first today? He probably threw an entire game to first base today.”
“I’m over here playing a chess match, trying to guess when he’s going to throw over so we can run. He guessed right several times. He’d guess wrong, but he’d guess right and he was picking us off. We’re trying to run on their catcher and we can’t get the ball to the catcher, so we shut it down and basically said let’s wait for our opportunities.”