Maybe, had it not been Henry Cartagena on the bump, Mike Turo would’ve been worried. His Monroe baseball team had carried a five-run lead in the bottom half of the seventh inning. Now, the lead was cut to three, the tying runs were aboard, the go-ahead run at the plate.
Turo remained confident.
“He’s the guy,” the longtime coach said. “He’s been around and done it before.”
He did it again on Sunday, fanning Madison designated hitter Anthony Frangello on three success fastballs, each one with more zip than the next, to send the No. 6 Eagles to their eight city championship game in the last decade. Cartagena’s effort enabled the Bronx power to sweep the Knights in the best-of-three PSAL Class A semifinal series with a 5-2 victory at KeySpan Park in Coney Island.
It was nothing new to Cartagena. He worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in Monroe’s second round 2-1 victory over Lehman and completed the opening-round win over no. 10 Madison.
“It’s starting to be a daily thing – closing the game,” he said.
Monroe (19-2) received a brilliant effort from southpaw Abel Guerrero. He pitched 6 1/3 and allowed two unearned runs four days after he failed to get out of the second inning against George Washington.
He received minimal support – Jesus Vasquez drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the third and Wander Almonte added to the cushion with a run-scoring single in the fourth – until the seventh when the Eagles scored three times, the big blow Joseph Gerena’s two-run, two-out single.
After the first three Knights (16-5) reached to start the seventh, Turo pulled Guerrero in favor of Cartagena. The senior struggled initially, walking Chris Mann, the first batter he faced. Shortstop Elias Todman, like Cartagena a senior who is desperately in search of an elusive city title, approached the mound. He advised Cartagena to slow down, to focus more intently on each pitch. He got the final two outs, by fanning Mike Fitzpatrick and Frangello.
“He’s a clutch pitcher,” Todman said.
With the final out, Cartagena walked off the mound. Unlike Norman Thomas, Monroe’s opponent in the city title game, the Eagles didn’t celebrate the victory. Just a few high fives and pats on the back.
“We’re saving it for the championship game,” Gerena, the power-hitting catcher, said, “when it counts.”
It was a satisfying afternoon for Monroe’s six seniors, particularly Cartagena. He has spent the last year looking to get to the final after last spring’s second-round exit. He desperately wants a city championship ring, the kind teammate Nelson Arroyo flashes. In fact, former Monroe star, Gabby Molina, was there on Sunday, too, showing his ring off as well.
“We’re one step away,” Cartagena said.