BOSTON—Pitching has dominated the Cape Cod League for decades, so it wasn't exactly big news that power arms were the big story of the league's all-star game Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
The dozens of scouts and 10,470 fans on hand were treated to stellar pitching from both sides in the West's 5-0 win against the East. Nine West pitchers worked an inning apiece in a combined six-hit shutout. The West rolled out one flame-thrower after another, starting with Cotuit righthander Austin Wood (St. Petersburg, Fla., JC) and finishing with Bourne righty Tony Zych (Louisville). Wood worked in the 93-96 mph range in his scoreless inning, but Zych out-did him, sitting at 95-97 and mixing in a nasty hard slider.
"The kid at the end was throwing 97 miles an hour, and the guys were coming back to the dugout—that's tough to catch up with, when you're throwing 97," said East manager Scott Pickler (Yarmouth-Dennis). "These guys have seen 92, 93 all year long, but when you get a 97, that's pretty tough. And those guys know how many scouts are behind them, and they're going out there and the sliders they had to hit . . . it's tough on hitters. All-star games are tough on hitters.
"When you ask these guys to go out there and perform in this atmosphere, they know they only have to get three outs, they know there's nothing else on the line, they can cut it loose."
Of course, that "cut-it-loose" mentality can have a silver lining for hitters. Wareham's Zach Wilson (Arizona State), who was named the West's MVP after keying a three-run seventh inning with an RBI double off the Green Monster and a run scored, said the all-star game was "a little" tougher on hitters because they only get to see pitchers once.
"But going in here," he said, "we know all the pitchers are just going to try to blow it by us and throw fastballs, so we usually just sit on fastballs the whole time."
Still, premium fastballs are tough to hit, especially for college players using wood bats. The West did all of its scoring in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, and the East's pitching staff shut out the West bats in the other six innings. Orleans righthander Marcus Stroman (Duke) showed the most electric stuff of the East pitchers, sitting at 94-96 mph and mixing in a vicious 81-82 mph slider in a scoreless second inning. Brewster righty Andrew Gagnon (Long Beach State), Harwich righty Braden Kapteyn (Kentucky), Orleans righty Kyle Simon (Arizona), and Brewster righty Colton Murray (Kansas) all topped out at 93 or better, with varying degrees of command and secondary stuff.
But the West pitchers stole the show. Zych's Bourne teammate, righty R.J. Alvarez (Florida Atlantic), provided impressive setup work in the eighth, working around a walk and an error by getting two strikeouts and a flyout. He pumped 95 mph fastballs and got one of his strikeouts on an 82 mph changeup. West manager Harvey Shapiro, who also manages the Bourne Braves, said Alvarez and Zych have shown that kind of electric stuff all summer. Zych has been a known commodity since his high school days; Alvarez is one of the Cape League's breakout prospects, though he did flash plenty of arm strength this spring at FAU.
Zych generated the most buzz, but Wareham lefthander Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech) might have turned in the best outing of the night. He needed just 11 pitches to work a 1-2-3 fifth, inducing two groundouts sandwiched around a strikeout. Bradley worked at 91-93 and added a hard slider at 80-83.
"I didn't really feel very good down in the bullpen," Bradley said. "I didn't really have a great feel for any of my pitches. But I just went out there and did what I needed to do: throw strikes and get guys out. It was definitely an adrenaline rush. It was my first time in a big league stadium, and Fenway of all places was a great place to do it.
"We were down there in the bullpen at the start of the game saying, 'We've got to strike out 14 guys,' and all this other stuff. It's all good fun. You get pretty pumped up to get in the game, and you know you've got one inning to give it all you've got."
The West pitching staff managed just half of that 14-strikeout goal, but it's safe to say the mission was accomplished.
The Cape League can say the same. In the all-star game's return to Fenway last year, cold, rainy weather put a damper on the festivities and cut the game to 4 1/2 innings. Mother Nature was much more cooperative on Wednesday, and the assembled fans and scouts were treated to one of the premier showcases of amateur baseball talent on the scouting calendar. And the players were treated to a taste of the big leagues.
"Last year and this year are special for these kids," Pickler said. "It's an amazing thing for these kids to play at Fenway. They know the history, and it's just so exciting. If you'd have been in the dugout with these guys and seen the excitement before the game, the nervousness a little bit. This is the best of the best, you don't see them get nervous, and they were a little bit nervous going into this. I think after the first inning, that wears off, it really does, and it becomes just a ballgame. But the excitement and the buildup of playing in this park was pretty special for everybody here today. And I also think the crowd really got into it, the crowd was a big plus for the Cape League, with what happened here with 10,000-plus people."
"They'll always remember this," Shapiro said of the players. "No matter what happens in their baseball careers, they've played at Fenway . . . It doesn't get any better than that."
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