All-Star week in Cape Cod signals the tail of the regular season and no team is roaring toward postseason play like the Orleans Firebirds, winners of six in a row, their longest streak of the summer. The Firebirds now stand at 19-16-3 and are tied for first place in the Eastern Division with Harwich.
Just a week ago Orleans's playoffs hopes were fading. The Birds had dropped six of their last eight—five of which were by fewer than two runs—and seemed to be going in the wrong direction. The turnaround has been sudden, especially considering that Orleans still ranks last in the league in batting average and on-base percentage.
Anthony Gomez, the Firebirds' shortstop and a rising junior at Vanderbilt, thinks the win streak can be attributed to improved team morale.
"I think it's just been a matter of the team finally gelling," Gomez said. "You had players leaving all the time and you had guys coming in from the World Series, so we were still figuring out how each other played. Now we know everyone, our starters are getting deep into games, and together it's taking a lot of pressure off the team and leading to wins."
Things began to click for Orleans last Wednesday when the Firebirds downed Yarmouth-Dennis, 2-0. With no score in the eighth, the Birds received some much needed clutch hitting off the bats of Gomez, Matt Duffy (Long Beach State) and Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) to complement the steady work of starter Tyler Johnson (Stony Brook) who worked six innings without allowing a run.
With one out and runners at the corners, Duffy, a rising junior infielder, singled to give Orleans the lead. Waldrip then laced a single to center field to score Gomez and give Firebird closer Trevor Gott (Kentucky) all the cushion he would need. Gott leads the Cape in saves with 11 and has a 0.95 ERA heading into Tuesday night.
Orleans' late-game heroics rolled over to the weekend when the Firebirds swept division rival Harwich in a Friday doubleheader, 3-1 and 4-3, crushed Bourne on Saturday, 10-2, and squeaked by Brewster, another division foe, on Sunday, 5-3.
Last night, the Firebirds downed Falmouth, 3-1, as John Brebbia, the Yankees 30th-round selection out of Elon, won his second game of the summer.
During the stretch, Gomez, Duffy, and Waldrip have been at the forefront of the team's offense. On Saturday, the trio had three hits apiece and scored seven of the team's 10 runs. Waldrip, who is tied for the league lead in home runs with six, had two doubles in the game, and Gomez, who didn't homer in 286 at-bats for Vanderbilt this spring, hit his first round-tripper of the summer.
"(The home run) felt good," Gomez laughed. "It was the first one I've hit in over a year, so I got a little silent treatment in the dugout but I was expecting that. Definitely nice to hit one."
Against Falmouth, all three had hits again. Duffy, who leads the team with a .309 average, hit his first home run of the summer, and Gomez hit his second in three days. Both were solo shots.
Still, it's Orleans' arms that have been the key during the winning streak. Johnson, a 6-foot righthander who went undrafted this spring as a junior, has led the Firebird starters with a 1.59 ERA. Brebbia and Jason Wheeler, the Twins eighth rounder out of Loyola Marymount, are close behind at 2.43 and 3.07, respectively; and Mike Hauschild (Dayton) threw five shutout innings against Brewster on Sunday.
The bullpen has been equally impressive of late. In addition to Gott, Orleans has also turned to Oregon State's Matt Boyd, Arizona's Kurt Heyer, Illinois State's Kenny Long, Rutgers' Tyler Gebler, and Nick Mutz—the Angels ninth rounder.
The key to their success has been throwing strikes.
"They don't walk a lot of guys which pays off a lot in this league," Gomez said of the team's pitchers. "Brebbia and Johnson go deep into the game, which has been huge, and then they hand it over to Gott who will just mow people down."
Orleans is not the only team in Cape Cod with a six-game winning streak entering Tuesday. Hyannis, who has a comfortable first-place lead in the Western Division, also won their sixth consecutive game last night, led by multi-hit efforts from Eric Stamets (Evansville), Joey Rickard (Arizona), Joey DiMichele (Arizona State), and Kevin Plawecki (Purdue), the team's first four hitters. Trey Masek (Texas Tech) got the win with five solid innings.
Hyannis righthander Jon Moscot (Pepperdine), a rising junior, has done his part to continue their streak and was awarded week six pitcher of the week honors. Moscot allowed just one unearned run on Saturday against Cotuit, striking out four and walking one in seven innings of work.
The Cape's player of the week was Chatham's Dane Phillips, a catcher from Oklahoma State. Phillips, who started every game for the Cowboys this spring and hit .339 with four home runs and 32 RBIs, had three multi-hit games and a pair of home runs for the Anglers in week six.
Arkansas's Matt Reynolds, a rising junior for Yarmouth-Dennis who has flipped between Cape Cod and Collegiate National Team action this summer, had a dominant weekend as well. Reynolds went 9-for-13 with three runs scored, five RBIs, a double and his second home run of the summer.
Meanwhile, in the Perfect Game Collegiate League, the Watertown Wizards' Erick Gaylord (Campbell) has been on fire. Gaylord leads the league in home runs (10) and RBIs (38) and is second in batting average (.372), runs scored (32), and stolen bases (18).
Mark Lapiskas has been putting up similar numbers in the Great Lakes League. Lapiskas, a rising junior from Toledo, leads the GLCL in home runs (six), RBIs (28) and is second in batting average (.371). Toledo teammate Alex Radon of the Lake Erie Monarchs leads the league with a 0.91 ERA.
One of the more impressive performances this summer came on July 8 in the Great Lakes League. Dusty Isaacs, a rising sophomore from Georgia Tech, struck out 16 and walked one in 8 2/3 innings for the Hamilton Joes. Isaacs, a 50th round selection by the Pirates out of high school, has a 2.89 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings.