Tempers flare as finals-bound Highlife use six-run 5th to beat Expos 8-3

Aug 10, 2018 by

DANNY CONCESSI had plenty to smile about after his lead-off homer set the tone for the Highlife’s 8-3 win over the Expos in game three at Moulton last night. (Dan Pawlowski Photos)

Published in the August 10, 2018 edition.

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

WAKEFIELD — To characterize last night’s game three between the Highlife and Expos as “heated” would be like describing the A-Rod-Varitek fight in 2004 as a “disagreement.”

Boiling over from a game two that was called in the 6th inning due to darkness, the two teams had more animosity resulting in three ejections.

Highlife starting pitcher John Evangelista and Expos number-two hitter Jonathan Richards had a mix up after Richards popped up to end the top of the 2nd inning. No punches were thrown, but both players were ejected, causing unique problems for both teams. Losing the starting pitcher was no doubt a tough break for the Life and the loss of Richards meant the shorthanded Expos needed their coach Steve Grasso to suit up at second base.

The game itself was perhaps the best of the postseason so far in the Twi League.

The Highlife scored two in the first inning. The Expos scored one in the wild second, and took the lead with two more runs in the fourth before the Highlife exploded for a six-run fifth and called the game.

Part of the tension had to do with the Expos and umpires calling Tuesday’s game two early. The clarification before game three was so long as five innings were played, the contest could technically be called at 7:45 p.m. The Highlife made sure everyone knew it was 7:45 after their fifth inning made it 8-3 with the sun fully set. In the end, what went around came around; the best team won and the Expos went out as good sports, lining up to shake hands and congratulate the winners. Sure it was competitive, but respect still reigned supreme at Moulton Park.

Both teams were warned after the top of the first. John Grossi hit a single and Richards sacrificed him to second. Nick Roberto flied out to center and had a meeting with Evangelista in-between the plate and the mound. It was a rare sight in the Twi League. While surely not the first time two players have disagreed, the intensity caused the umpires to warn both benches. Evangelista got Steve Fiore to fly out to end the inning.

Highlife lead-off man Danny Concessi seemed to make a statement to everyone at Moulton Park when he stepped up in the bottom of the first. We’re here to play baseball.

Concessi hit a shot to deep right-center and flew out of the box, thinking at least triple from the jump. The ball seemed to roll all the way to Gould Street, as Concessi, the Highlife’s centerfielder, read the ball’s trajectory as he rounded first, fully aware what was going through the head of Expos’ centerfield Chris McNall as he raced back. Concessi scored standing up, getting the Life’s bench going early for a 1-0 lead.

After Expos starting pitcher Danny O’Brien struck out Ryan Doyle, Jason Federico ripped one to left for an opposite field triple. He would later be driven in on a two-out single by Anthony Caracciolo.

McNall later made the defensive play of the day on a sinking liner off the bat of Mark Sullivan. McNall sprinted to his right and made a phenomenal backhanded diving catch, just barely picking it before it reached the grass.

Evangelista walked three consecutive batters to start the second. He battled right back to strike out O’Brien and Dave Melanson, but Grossi came through with an RBI single to left, cutting the lead to 2-1.

Following the scuffle both offenses sputtered until the fourth.

The Highlife turned to Matt Davis on the mound, who sat the Expos down in order in the third. Davis would go on to pitch three innings, allowing three hits, two walks and two runs while striking out two.

Not bad for emergency work with a trip to the finals on the line.

The Expos took a 3-2 lead in the fourth when McNall hit a one-out single to start a rally. O’Brien put together a great at-bat to draw a walk and Melanson ripped a double to center, scoring both McNall and O’Brien.

Davis came right back, blowing away Grossi on a high fastball and striking out Grasso to end the inning.

The Highlife seemed primed to tie it when Cliff Silva dug out an infield single and stole second to start the bottom of the fourth. A called hit-and-run backfired when Sullivan’s liner was snagged at third by Grossi who then tagged the incoming Silva for a double play to end the rally.

Davis did nice job of keeping the lead at one, picking up two quick outs in the top of the fifth. Mike Cannata hit an infield single and Mark Andrick walked, but Davis got McNall to ground out.

The Highlife finally got to O’Brien in the bottom of the fifth for the first time since the first inning. Nick Kaddaras ripped one that hugged the left field line for a leadoff double, setting up his cousin Concessi who singled off the new pitcher McNall for a first and third situation.

McNall, one of the better pitchers in the league, inherited about the worst situation possible, facing the top of the order of an angry, talented team who knew it was now or never with 7:45 fast approaching.

The righty got the next batter, Ryan Doyle, to strike out. With Federico up, a pitch got through Andrick behind the plate. Kaddaras danced down the line, deciding whether he had a chance and finally went for it, breaking for home and getting under a McNall tag to tie the game 3-3.

Federico walked and Davis flew out, but the Highlife put together a two-out rally for the ages when Caracciolo walked to load the bags, setting up Silva who looped a double into right, scoring both Concessi and Federico to make it 5-3.

Mark Sullivan capitalized on the second and third situation, coming through with a base hit to score two for a 7-3 lead. Sullivan got a good break when Eric DiTonno hit a single and scored all the way from first to make it 8-3.

When the inning was finally over, the Highlife had what felt like an unbeatable lead in a game like this. With it called over, the reigning champs had a chance to celebrate a well-earned series win against a good team as they move on to try and repeat as champions, this time against the Brewers who won their own game three against the Loafers on Wednesday night. The finals are scheduled to get under way on Sunday.

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