By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When your starting pitcher has to quickly exit a game due to an injury and you have to throw in a reliever that hasn’t warmed up yet, the odds of your squad keeping the momentum moves from to slim to none.
But not when Ed Dickman is on your squad.
The jack-of-all-trade baseball standout had to relieve an injured Rex Cone on the mound, helped to stabilize the game and came up with a huge save in a Manchester Twilight League Tournament elimination game as the Bristol Knights stayed alive by defeating Portland, 5-2, from Rotary Field in South Windsor.
The Knights, the sixth-ranked squad in the tournament fray, moved on to the final week of playoff action and took on rival Elmer’s this past Monday, Aug. 11 in another do-or-die encounter.
And Dickman was desperately needed as Cone, trying to beat out a hit to first base in the fifth inning, came up lame getting to the bag, pulling his hamstring.
Dickman, who had thrown out two runners trying to steal second from his catching position already, was tasked to take over for Cone with the Knights hanging on to a slim 2-1 edge.
Portland greeted Dickman by notching a run off an error to end the fifth inning as the contest was all tied up at 2-2.
But Dickman was sharp over the final two frames – striking out four of the final six batters he faced – to squash the Panthers offense and save the game for the Knights.
“Every year in the playoffs, we wait for that the time of the year to throw Eddie,” said Knights General Manger Scott Dickens of Dickman. “He’s had arm issues in the past and we just don’t use him as a pitcher anymore. But he’s nasty and he’s very good.”
“We’ll save him for the playoffs because there’s always a chance that that could be the last time he can throw for the year.”
In 2.1 innings of work, Dickman didn’t give up a hit and walked only one.
Cone did an incredible job, before and after the injury, on the mound for the Knights.
He gave up just two runs off four hits in 4.2 frames of work.
After the hamstring pull, he stayed in the game to throw, walked the first two batters he faced but struck out Jon Stezt – after Dickman caught Chris Legiadre trying to swipe second base – for the second out in the fifth.
But after throwing one pitch to Dan Bologna, the Knights’ brain trust saw Cone laboring and yanked the starter.
“Rex did fantastic,” said Dickens of Cone. “He got a couple gutsy outs on a pulled hamstring after hitting that ball and coming up lame going to first [base].”
Bristol collected just seven hits in the game but generated four over the final three innings to turn a 2-2 stalemate into an eventual three-run push.
The winning tally came in top of the sixth off the bat of Earl Oakes (1-for-3, RBI).
He slipped a ball up the middle that took a funny hop upwards that the Portland infielders had to chase, allowing pinch runner Julio Ortiz-Rivera to cross the plate as Bristol gobbled up a 3-2 push.
In the seventh, the Knights added two insurance runs to the scoreboard.
With two on and no outs, Cone limped to the batter’s box and plopped a bloop hit to short right field as a run scored to make it a 4-2 game.
One batter later, Ortiz-Rivera smacked a base hit to right as another run crossed the plate as the Knights’ 5-2 cushion was looming big at that point.
“We had some timely hits tonight, which were great,” said Dickens.
For the Knights, Dickman smashed out a hit, walked and scored a run; Ricky Barrett went 2-for-4 with two RBI; while Ortiz-Rivera went 2-for-3 with an RBI and three stolen bases in the winning effort.
To open the game, Dickman walked, stole second and moved to third off a passed ball, scoring when Barrett flipped a single to right as Bristol made it a 1-0 game after one inning of play.
Cone cruised into the fourth when Portland finally got on the board.
With two outs, Brandon Lagueux sent a Texas Leaguer to short right and an infield hit by Todd Johnson ( just beating out an excellent throw from Barrett from shortstop) led to a run as the game became a 1-1 affair after four completed frames.
In the fifth, Barrett chopped a ball just past the first basemen’s reach as pinch runner Walter Klimczak made it home as the Knights reacquired the advantage at 2-1.
Cone was lifted in the fifth as Bristol was still leading by a run.
“He’s only thrown something like 10 innings all year long and that’s coming off a knee surgery,” said Dickens of Cone. “Him throwing as long as he did was a bonus.”
But the Panthers drew even again as Dan Baccaro reached base via error as Dave Reindl scored and the game became a 2-2 affair.
But quickly, the Portland offense dried up as Dickman exerted his authority on the mound.
“Getting Eddie to come in relief was huge,” said Dickens.
Bristol scored three consecutive runs to ramp up a 5-2 lead and in the bottom of the seventh, the pressure was on the Panthers to pull out the win or face elimination.
And off a groundout, Dickman struck out the final two batters he faced as the Knights picked up a huge 5-2 win to play into the final week of the tournament.
“(Bristol Knights coach) Brian (LaRochelle) made a good call today on how to manage this game,” said Dickens. “We were going back and forth on who to pitch and when. We warmed up four other guys today just in case. We warmed up Barrett, we warmed up (Lucas) Palma, we warmed up (Ricky) Blais…just in case Eddie couldn’t do it.”
“But it worked.”
NOTES…It’s down to four teams in the chase for the 2014 Manchester Twilight League Championship.
The top rated East Hartford Angels, second seed and defending champion Glastonbury Pirates, fifth ranked and 2012 champion Elmer’s and finally, the number six seed and 2011 champion, Bristol Knights.
And one of those squads would make a worthy champion in 2014.
Both the runner up from last year, Portland Panthers, and the three seed, Tunxis Grill Indians, were eliminated this past week.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE