There was a smile splashed across Blender Sanchez’s face as he nailed down the tarp. Usually reserves such as Sanchez are the first members of the Clinton baseball team in the clubhouse.
Except Sanchez, in addition to Alberto Done, Rowin Rodriguez and Emmanuel Alvarez, weren’t reserves Wednesday afternoon in the Governors’ impressive 2-1, eight-inning victory over Gompers. They started and finished ace right-hander Ali Wagas’s two-hit gem.
“Amazing,” was the one word Done used to describe the fruitful afternoon.
Coach Robert Miller benched starters Alnardo Rodriguez, Shaniel Rivera, Raul Rodriguez and Harold Fich for the important Bronx crossover game. The day before, the four were nowhere to be found when several other Governors swept water off the drenched tarp.
The selfish act infuriated Miller. That it was those four, who he often receives complaints from teachers and security guards about, made it an easy decision for the veteran coach.
“The guys who never give me any headaches,” Miller told himself, “are the guys that are gonna play.”
Said Gompers coach Luis Figueroa: “I’ve done it in the past; as they say, the inmates don’t run the asylum. I’m sure the team got the message. If anything, it makes them more unified.”
After the victory, Miller was beaming, because of Wagas’s brilliant performance and the opportunity afforded to seldom-used reserves who got to be part of a victory that should help Clinton’s playoff seeding in the coming weeks. They are the players who are always on the top step of the dugout, cheering on their teammates; the guys who never ask to play, even though Miller knows they are hoping to.
Said Sanchez, filling in for Alnardo Rodriguez at third base: “It feels good to be able to play in a league game.”
The move, Miller said, also could help the team’s chemistry. Early in the year, Clinton’s captains, including Fich and Raul Rodriguez, opted to dismiss three players who weren’t displaying proper behavior. Obviously, there were other problems that had to be addressed.
Miller didn’t tell the four they were punished. “I said check the lineup, gentlemen,” he said.
“They were upset; they wanted to get in the game,” Mercedes said.
Said catcher Joseph Flores, who had the game-winning hit, a run-scoring single that plated Ali in the top of the eighth: “I’m definitely sure they learned their lesson. We showed them that even though we kind of need them, we don’t. Just because you’re a starter, it doesn’t mean your position is guaranteed. Our pitching and defense can keep us in games, and all we need to do is scratch out a few runs.”
Wagas found out he would be pitching without several starters just 45 minutes before his first pitch. He greeted the news with a smile.
“I really wanted this to happen,” he said. “I give Coach great respect for doing this. He told me, ‘This is the game I really want to win. …. Back me up.’ And I just did my best.”