Alexandria Aces pitcher Kyle Zimmer appeared to be out of a fourth-inning jam when he induced a two-out groundball from Youse’s Orioles batter Harry Slade. Instead, the seemingly harmless grounder, which should have ended the inning, turned into an error and an Orioles run. Two pitches later, the Orioles, playing with house money, added a hit and two more runs.
In a matter of moments, the Aces removed themselves from a 1-all tie in favor of a familiar situation: trailing despite strong pitching. Inept offense and defensive blunders had hurt the team all season. And on July 20, facing the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League’s first-place Orioles, Alexandria’s new 4-1 deficit seemed like an appropriate time for the Aces to fold the tent and prepare for another loss in a disappointing season.
BUT ON THIS DAY, Alexandria responded like a playoff team, rather than team 10 games under .500.
The Aces answered with four runs in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead and Zimmer’s strong effort on the mound held up in a 7-6 win over the Orioles at Frank E. Mann Field. The victory was the Aces’ first at home since June 25 and improved their record to 14-24.
"The guys fight. They’re not going to lie down," Alexandria head coach Eric Williams said. "We told them going into it, it would be really nice to start spoiling some people’s afternoons. They seem to play a different ballgame when we’re playing No. 1, No. 2 teams for some reason."
Alexandria beat the second-place Bethesda Big Train 2-1 on July 16. After Tuesday’s win over the Orioles, the Aces were tied for sixth place in an eight-team league with the Southern Maryland Nationals.
"You know the standings in the back of your mind going into every game," Alexandria catcher Eric Bainer said. "Whether you’re playing the Big Train or [the Orioles], whoever’s on top, you like to come out there and play up to the challenge every day."
Zimmer (San Francisco, sophomore) scattered eight hits and surrendered two earned runs over six-plus innings. The right hander struck out six and improved to 3-1 on the season with a 1.62 ERA.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the third and threatened to rough Zimmer up for several more runs, loading the bases with one out. But Zimmer worked his way out of the jam, getting Chad Taylor to ground into a 1-2-3 inning-ending double play. After running into trouble in the fourth, Zimmer breezed through the fifth and sixth innings in a combined 23 pitches. He was pulled after allowing a leadoff single in the seventh.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander threw 70 of his 106 pitches for strikes and delivered a first-pitch strike to 17 of 28 batters faced. Zimmer has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his nine outings this season.
"Zimmer’s been lights out for us all year," Williams said. "He’s kept us in every ball game that he’s been in, and if it didn’t turn out his way it’s because we didn’t give him run support or we didn’t give him defense. He spots the ball well, he’s got a little zip on the fastball. He’s got a nice little slider he throws every now and then and he just throws that [split-finger] whenever he wants to. He commands those three pitches and does real well with them."
Zimmer, whose fastball reaches 92 mph but sits usually at 88-89, said his first year in the CRCBL has been a learning experience.
"It’s different playing every day," he said. "During the school year you’re just playing on weekends and maybe one midweek game. It’s really mental playing every day and trying to stay in it and come to the park for six hours a day — especially being a [starting pitcher], not playing every day. You’ve really just got to try to stay in it, stay focused and try to take every day to get better, even when you’re not pitching."
TRAILING 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Alexandria’s Zach Tessier (High Point, sophomore) led off with a walk. Chris Murphy (St. Mary’s, junior) followed with a double and Spencer Branigan (Pennsylvania, sophomore) drove in a run with a single. Mike Gragilla (High Point, sophomore) then chopped an RBI double over the head of the Orioles first baseman and David Wood tied the score at 4 with an RBI groundout. Jared Denham gave Alexandria the lead for good with a run-scoring single.
Alexandria travels to face Bethesda at 7:30 p.m. on July 22. The Aces’ final home game is at 7 p.m. on July 24 against the Herndon Braves.
"We’re still trying to get some points across to some individuals about different aspects of hitting the ball and fielding the ball," Williams said. "We haven’t stopped trying to teach them stuff, so we’re still taking the opportunity to learn them while we can. It’s a matter of whether they’re taking the opportunity to listen."