LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Armada needed extra innings to get the job done Wednesday night. Norm Hutchins' walk off two-run inside-the-park homerun gave Long Beach the win, 5-4, over the Orange County Flyers in 11 innings at Blair Field. The South Division Championship Series will shift to Orange County this weekend tied, 1-1.
Only one night after Orange County struck late to steal a victory in Game 1, Long Beach returned the favor to even the series.
With the Armada trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Hutchins drove the first pitch he saw into deep center field, scoring Steve Moss from third base. While playing the fly ball, Flyers centerfielder and MVP candidate Pat Breen ran head-first into the brick outfield wall, and the ball fell by his side. By the time right fielder Mark Okano could run to Breen and throw the ball to the cut-off man, Hutchins was well on his way toward home plate for his Armada record-extending 16th home run of 2008.
After a brief celebration at home plate, the emotion at Blair Field turned from jubilation to gloom with Breen still laying on the center field warning track. Trainers and paramedics helped him to his feet after a 15 minute period of silence and doubt. Breen left the field via ambulance and was taken to an area hospital. He did not lose consciousness but did have a cut over his left eye.
The sight of players from rival teams waiting together as paramedics tended to Breen seemed almost unreal when only an hour earlier the dugouts and bullpens cleared for a near-brawl in the 8th inning.
Orange County jumped out to a 3-0 lead, a small margin considering the 17 Flyers left on base in the game. OC held the Fleet scoreless until the bottom of the 6th. Armada third baseman Ryan Lehr smashed a 2-RBI triple to score Moss and Omar Bramasco, putting the Armada on the board, 2-3. Flyers starter Bob Cramer balked, scoring Lehr from third, tying the game, 3-3.
In the top of the 8th, sailor-turned-Flyer Jeff LaRue flew out to right field with Flyers shortstop Jermy Acey on third base. Armada right fielder Julian Williams made the catch and launched the ball toward catcher David Ramirez at home plate, who blocked the plate from Acey on a clean play that turned ugly. Benches and bullpens cleared after Ramirez tried to tap Acey with the ball after the collision at the plate. No punches were thrown and no players were ejected.
Hutchins (1-for-5, 2 RBI) and Lehr (2-for-5, 2 RBI) provided the offense while the Armada pitching staff held the prolific Flyers offense in check. Starter Rik Currier did not receive a decision after pitching five innings. He allowed 3 runs on 10 hits while striking out 5 and walking 4. After a scoreless inning of relief from Dusty Gober (2 SO, 1 BB), Nick Bierbrodt took the mound for the Fleet.
Bierbrodt, a former major leaguer, pitched the final five innings of the game to earn the win (1-0). He gave up one earned run on four hits and totaled 6 strikeouts and 2 walks. Flyers closer Dane De La Rosa (0-1) took the loss, pitching the bottom of the 11th for OC.
The Flyers host the Armada at Goodwin Field on Friday night in Game 3 of the best-of-five series to determine who will represent the South Division in the GBL Championship Series next week. Expected starters for the 7:05pm game are Orange County's Matt Durkin and Long Beach's Ryan Claypool.