As Jane Addams ace Jimmy Bermudez warmed up by throwing a few of his trademark blazing fastballs, Clinton coach Robert Miller walked over to several of his starters who were watching the lean right-hander intently.
“I got what I wanted,” he told them.
The Governors were just as happy for the challenge, greeting Bermudez by scoring three first-inning runs, two on Harold Fich’s double, en route to a comfortable 6-2 victory over Jane Addams at Crotona Park in the Bronx.
Starting pitcher Shaniel Rivera added a solo home run in the third to the opposite field, junior Joseph Flores executed a squeeze play to score sophomore Melvin Mercedes in the fifth and Rivera, a junior right-hander, went the distance on the mound, allowing just four hits, striking out six and pitching around seven walks.
“As coaches, we knew they could do it,” assistant Felix Villalon said. “But for them, it’s a morale booster. … I was impressed. We haven’t hit good pitchers (well) and we haven’t hit bad pitchers. We’ve only hit mediocre pitchers.”
Jane Addams’ hard-throwing senior would fit best into the first category, hitting mid 80s on the radar gun of one local scout. Against Bermudez, who entered 3-0 with an 0.50 ERA and struck out 12, the Governors forced the action, working counts and hitting ball the other way. It was Clinton’s third straight league win since consecutive one-run losses to Walton.
“When the challenges come, that’s when you see who really steps up,” Fich said. “This is what this team needed.”
“Anywhere he put the ball, those kids hit the ball,” Jane Addams coach Joseph Carpanzano said.
Rivera was impressive, too. Lacking the velocity of Bermudez, he pitched smart after a rocky first inning when he walked in a run. The junior mixed in a tailing fastball and biting curveball, changing speeds on both pitches. He threw several fastballs at batting practice speeds to keep the Jaguars’ over-anxious hitters off balance. After yielding shortstop Alex German’s run-scoring single in the third, he retired 12 of 13 at one point.
“I told Coach last week, I wanted this team,” he said.
Villalon has noticed a change in Clinton since captains Fich, Joseph Montalvo and Raul Rodriguez held a players-only meeting, where they dismissed three players, including one starter, from the team. A few others, in fact, Fich said, were given a reprieve.
The three leaders discussed the move beforehand with the coaching staff, and were given the go-ahead, with one caveat: The decision couldn’t be reversed. They followed through with the move, ridding the program of players who, Mercedes said, didn’t focus during practice and fooled around on the bench during games.
“They didn’t contribute to the team,” Mercedes said.
In that case, consider it addition by subtraction. The victory over Addams was selfless. Everyone was standing during at-bats. Governors gave themselves up, moving runners along instead of aiming for extra base hits.
“We’re more of a team now,” Villalon said. “The others guys were spoiling us.”
Clinton, which started the year 1-2, is creeping toward the top of Bronx A East. Catching undefeated Monroe (6-0) is a longshot, even if the Governors sweep the season series. But they are only a game in the loss column behind Walton for second place.