Oh, Ho, Ho, Fitzmagic, You Know
by Justin de Haas
Stayin’ Alive: The Walnut Creek Crawdads still have hopes of earning the no. 1 seed in the CCL North Division.
According to MLB.com, “a starting pitcher records a quality start when he pitches at least six innings and allows three earned runs or fewer”. MLB needs to revise this definition because relief pitcher Sean Fitzpatrick had a quality start out of the bullpen to help the Crawdads get another comeback victory, this time defeating the Healdsburg Prune Packers 5-4 at Monte Vista.
Fitzpatrick’s longest outing of the season was July 15 against the Lincoln Potters when he pitched four innings at McBean Stadium. It may not have looked like it, but the reliever faced some fatigue once he reached those uncharted waters.
“I was a little labored by the fifth or sixth inning maybe,” Fitzpatrick said. “Definitely the last one I was laboring a little bit. I haven’t extended that long in a while, but I just kept fighting through it and competing. We came out with the W.”
Fitzpatrick emptied the tank for a much-needed victory and he saved his best for last. The reliever was efficient with 63 pitches in the last six innings after Walnut Creek starting pitcher Antoine Valerio pitched the first three innings.
“We just played hard throughout,” Fitzpatrick said. “Antoine came out and gave us a good start. We had some miscues that led to them scoring a little bit. Offense stayed in it and I was blessed to throw up some zeros for us. Came out and stayed in the game. Kept putting good swings on the ball and we scored. That’s what this team does. We are going to hit the ball and we are going to score runs. As pitchers, you have to keep competing and know you’ll have a chance to win.”
The Crawdads were down four runs after the first three innings, but it was not necessarily Valerio’s fault. Walnut Creek second baseman Ryan Ellis has been an eraser at the keystone for the Crawdads, but a grounder from Healdsburg first baseman Connor Champion snuck underneath his glove and a couple unearned runs would eventually score off the error. Valerio has allowed two earned runs in both of his outings since he returned to the squad and he is an arm the Crawdads will rely on in the late stages of the season.
Walnut Creek center fielder Casey Cummings is day to day after getting hit by a pitch against the Potters on July 16 and Ryan Brome left the team, so the offense has some big holes to fill. Third baseman Max Farfan was a beneficiary of these losses, hitting his team-leading 10th home run of the season and sixth homer in CCL play. Farfan’s bomb was the only Walnut Creek RBI off a hit as the Crawdads mostly benefited from productive outs and Healdsburg’s mistakes.
The Walnut Creek lineup struggled early in the game because Healdsburg starting pitcher Christopher Stamos was perfect his first time through the order. Stamos would eventually allow two runs, which were the first two runs he allowed in the CCL this summer after starting the season with a 22-inning scoreless streak.
Walnut Creek scraped together a gritty victory over Healdsburg, which now puts the ‘Dads 1.5 games behind the Packers for first place in the CCL North. The Crawdads travel to Recreation Park, a place where they have not won yet, with hopes to win the series in Healdsburg and they are enjoying every second of it.
“It’s just so much fun,” Fitzpatrick said. “You never feel like you’re out of a ball game ever. I always feel like we can come back and win. I think that’s what we all feel as a whole. We have such great chemistry. We just keep fighting, fighting and fighting until we break through. It’s really fun to watch. I just really enjoy it.”