PORTLAND — What we saw Thursday night from the Portland Sea Dogs was everything we suspected the parent club would show us this year.
Wait. Is that suspected, or feared?
First the happy stuff.
Portland showed the huddled mass of 5,654 at Hadlock Field pitching aplenty in its home opener.
The infield of Yamaico Navarro, Jose Iglesias, Nate Spears and Lars Anderson fielded more tough hops and backhanders than Andy Dick at a Comedy Central celebrity roast. Behind the plate, Luis Exposito handled the Sea Dogs’ sequence of live arms with authority, flashing the signals on a dozen strikeouts.
“It gives you a lot of confidence when you know the guys behind you are one of the best defensive teams in the league,” said Portland starting pitcher Kyle Weiland.
Top to bottom, the Sea Dogs’ swingers exhibited a patience that wore out one of the top left-handed prospects in the New York Yankees’ organization, Jeremy Bleich, on an evening better suited to an under-the-lights schuss at Lost Valley.
‘Tis the magic potion: Pitching, defense, and guys who understand Theo Epstein and Billy Beane’s gospel of OBP and OPS better than that obnoxious guy with the perpetual morning breath in your fantasy league.
Eighty or more nights this summer — warmer ones, home-cooked ones and lost-in-Altoona ones — that formula is bound to invoke smiles and produce wins.
And then there are random rest stops such as this one, when you might be compelled you offer your kingdom for a flashback to the days of creatine and roses.
Give me a Slugger, besides the guy writing royalty checks to the Village People in a seal costume. Any slugger.
Not this time.
Two-out, bases-empty doubles by Iglesias in the fifth and Anderson in the sixth set the table for two modest rallies. Those weren’t enough to overcome the 375-foot blast by Damon Sublett in the top of the 11th. Sublett’s smash gave the Trenton Thunder a 4-2 victory and spoiled the Sea Dogs’ home opener with a potential washout weekend ahead.
“We really didn’t get many people to second base for most of the game,” said Portland manager Arnie Beyeler. “It was just one of those games where fortunately for us we didn’t lose the game. They just drove the ball out of the park.”
Maybe Beyeler channeled his inner Yogi Berra with that one. It was a good-cop, bad-cop, angel-overlooking-one-shoulder, devil-perched-upon-the-other kind of night, though.
Trenton touched up Ryne Lawson, who entered the night without allowing an earned run in five prior innings, to put it away. But not before Weiland, Andrew Dobies and Bryce Cox worked in brilliant tandem and quelled the Thunder throughout.
Weiland threw strikes to the first seven hitters and pitched four-hit ball over six innings in the brighter half of his two night-and-day starts this spring.
“I got control of my off-speed pitches early,” Weiland said. “I didn’t have that the last time out. Any time you get that first-pitch strike, you’re giving yourself a big advantage.”
The Notre Dame product helped himself with a belly-first dive across the third-base line chalk to swallow up a Reid Gorecki bunt for a highlight-film out in the second. After taking 30 seconds to catch the breath that was stripped away by the still-solid ground, Weiland casually asked for a cup of water and rinsed the mud from his pitching hand.
Generally speaking, the Sea Dogs’ staff didn’t make anyone get dirty after that.
Dobies and Cox combined for five shutout innings out of the bullpen, surrendering only a soft, sinking line drive by Kevin Smith and a slow roller that ate up Spears for an infield single.
That cleanliness almost was enough to counteract the chill of a lineup that was mostly in Fort Myers form.
Bleich no-hit the Sea Dogs until Iglesias’ two-bagger in the fifth. Jason Place plated Iglesias with a single.
Anderson delivered his double among his three backward Ks on the scorecard. Navarro pushed him home to tie it.
“We had another two-out opportunity after that, and they pitched out of it,” Beyeler said.
Eric Wordekemper fanned Exposito with the bases jammed in the 10th and send the Sea Dogs packing 1-2-3 in the 11th.
Thus ended a three-game winning streak.
Only twice in eight games have the Sea Dogs stroked a double-digit number of hits. This is already the third time they’ve been held to three runs or fewer.
Seen that movie before, you say? From the team two hours to the south?
My advice with to fans of the big and little guys is the same: Be patient. Enjoy the show.
More often than not, it’s going to have a happy ending.