Players in the Majors A Division All-Star Game at J.J. Walker Field at Hudson and Clarkson Sts. on Sunday. The game is traditionally held on Father’s Day. The Majors B Division also held its All-Star Game on Sunday.
By Gabriel M. Zucker
The 2008 Greenwich Village Little League playoffs drew to a close last weekend at J.J. Walker Field with some of the most nail-biting action of the year. High-quality pitching and superb fielding proved the difference in earning the final teams the title of “champion” in the Majors A and B divisions.
After claiming a quick victory over the third-place Dodgers in a Tuesday tiebreaker, the first-place Orioles claimed their expected bye to the Majors A championship game on Saturday. Opposing them were the Dodgers, who defeated the Pirates in a semifinal matchup on Friday.
The O’s hoped to claim a quick championship clincher in the first of two possible rematches on Saturday. (In the double-elimination tournament, the undefeated Orioles would have to win only one game, whereas the Dodgers would have to win twice.) But the Dodgers, still fuming from their Tuesday defeat, were in no mood to go quietly. They jumped all over the Birds in the first, loading the bases for Will Maxwell-Lunney’s three-run double before the Orioles could record an out. When Maxwell-Lunney crossed the plate following a couple of bloop singles, the Dodgers had netted a four-run lead.
Those four runs, meanwhile, would be more than enough support for the mighty left arm of Levi Stern, who silenced the Birds’ powerful offense (regular season average of more than seven runs per game). With commanding pop on the ball and a fiery delivery, Stern recorded 10 strikeouts over five innings, allowing only two measly runs on four hits.
In the meantime, the Dodgers continued to pile on runs. A double by Kevin Moy led to a two-run third. When Will Reagan led off the fifth with a laser down the right-field line and Stern followed up the act with a shot a few feet from clearing the fence, the Dodgers had an 8-2 lead. Oriole second baseman Matthew Wagner limited the damage when he knocked down a grounder on a dive to his left, but the Dodgers kept up the onslaught in the following inning, when a pair of singles put runners on the corners with none out. Shortstop Hunter Hinden gunned down one Dodger at the plate for the first out, but Julien Hitier and Osvaldo Castillo came around on infield hits to give the Dodgers a 10-2 lead.
The O’s tried to mount one last rally against fireman Reagan in the last inning, putting a speedy runner on with two out. But, on a rope down the right-field line, first baseman Spencer Tibbals dove to his left to rob the Birds of an extra-base hit and end the game.
When the teams met for a third and final time in the winner-take-all game one hour later, the O’s took a page from the Dodgers’ book and jumped out with an early lead. Ben Hecker led off the bottom of the first with a walk and a couple of stolen bases, which set up Ben Irving’s long sacrifice fly to right field. But the Dodgers bounced right back in the next inning. Jim Fagan led off with a monstrous blast off the top of the fence. A fielder’s choice and two stolen bases later, Wesley McGinnis’s RBI poke through the middle tied the game at 1 apiece.
After a shaky start, the Dodgers’ Fagan and the Birds’ Cameron Brown settled down to match zeroes with the help of some tight defense. Fagan helped his own cause in the second with a bare-handed snag of a tapped grounder to his right. In the third, the defense again quashed a rally when catcher Moy gunned down a speedy Bird attempting to steal second.
Things were quiet until Brown ran into some serious trouble in the fourth, issuing a two-out walk to Fagan and a double to Hitier. Then, one strike away from escaping the jam, Brown reached his pitch-count limit and had to hand the ball over to Max Fried. With considerable tension in the air, Fried retired the side on just one pitch.
Fagan was not so lucky when he ran into trouble the same inning. With one out, Hecker singled and stole second, bringing Carter Brown to the plate. Amidst a chorus of screams, Brown drove a double to left, plating Hecker with the go-ahead run. Shortstop Hitier limited the damage when he doubled a Bird off second to end the inning, but the play did not do much to limit the elation of an Oriole team up one run with six outs to go.
Both teams knocked at apparently locked doors in the fifth. The Dodgers’ Tibbals led off with a walk, but, after a fielder’s choice, the Orioles pulled of a rare Little League double play, ignited by Hinden at shortstop and turned expertly by Wagner at second. With two outs and a runner on first, the Birds’ Jon Jon Rubin rifled a double to right field, and the strong throw to third sailed into the fence. But Hitier, wide awake on the backup, grabbed the idle baseball and fired it to the plate to nail the speedy Oriole for the third out.
With three outs to play and hanging onto a 2-1 lead, the Birds brought on Hecker in hopes of securing the championship. He got Matt Tuggle to fly out to deep left field, and he fanned the next Dodger after running the count full. Hecker then scored two quick strikes on Ben Sydel, the Dodgers’ last chance, before Sydel slapped an infield single back to the mound, and Stern followed it up with a hard shot through the middle. But centerfielder Carter Brown, charging furiously, snagged Stern’s apparent hit and fired it to second in time to nail Sydel for the force, setting off a mob celebration of jumping orange-clad bodies and flying hats at second base.
After the thrill of Majors A subsided from J.J. Walker, the third-place Royals and the first-place Rays of Majors B took the field for a rematch of the Royals’ surprise victory the previous Sunday. Like the Orioles, the Royals were unable to nail down a first-game victory. The Rays’ offense supplied 11 runs, which proved well more than enough in the hands of hurler Jay Jurow, who held the Royals to a measly one run.
An impending thunderstorm forced the teams to postpone their third and final game to the following day. A much tighter contest than Saturday’s, the championship was decided largely on the Royals’ commanding defense. Led by Jasper Kitchen’s impressive pitching and backed up by shortstop Eli Williams and catcher Shawn Gilhooley, the Royals held the Rays to just four runs and took a 7-4 victory.
In the spirit of Little League, the championship game was followed by the annual All-Star Game for each division, which offered top players from all teams a chance to substitute camaraderie for competition, and celebrate an excellent year of play. When it comes to a high level of play, however, the league could have asked for no more than the championship games in each division. Instead of featuring walks and errors, they exhibited superb fielding, strong hitting and genuinely exciting baseball for the neighborhood.