No pitcher could get too comfortable during the National Baseball Congress World Series championship game on Friday night. The game was too important to let the men on the mound work through their struggles.
Liberal reliever Tomas Cruz had no difficulties to work through, except to make a lasting mark on a tournament in which he had previously pitched poorly.
Cruz struck out Seattle's Dan Ward with two outs in the sixth, then pitched three more scoreless innings with five strikeouts, allowing the BeeJays to hold off Seattle 9-6 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium for their fifth NBC championship and first since 2000.
"Coming in to this type of game, you've got to be prepared from the first inning on," Cruz said. "It's not one of those days where you let your guy go. They could have pulled me at any moment. Everybody in the bullpen's got to be ready at any minute."
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Seattle's bullpen was also on call, as starter J.T. Zink didn't make it out of the first inning. Studs manager Barry Aden visited the mound after Zink allowed a two-run home run to Joe Vaskas, but opted to leave Zink in.
After the next two batters singled and walked, Zink's night was over. The Studs' offense helped them dig out of an early hole, but Seattle didn't find pitching stability until it was too late.
"We knew going into this game that we were going to have to piece it up, just because all of our arms were tired," Aden said. "We were hoping for a good, quality start out of J.T., maybe get four or five innings out of him. It just didn't work out tonight."
Liberal didn't treat their forced exit of Zink as an accomplishment, getting reliever Brian Corliss out of the game almost as quickly.
Corliss made it through a scoreless second, but didn't record an out in the third while allowing three baserunners. They all eventually scored, and Liberal had a 6-0 lead and all the momentum.
Richard Bohlken greeted David Benson with a two-run single that put the BeeJays ahead by six.
"Obviously you had to keep going," Martin said of the team's approach after scoring three in the first. "You can't stop. These guys played their butts off and I couldn't be more happy with them."
Liberal starter Brandon Faulkner didn't survive his first bout with trouble, either. After cruising through three innings, Faulkner allowed a leadoff double to Mark Rockey in the fourth, followed by a two-run homer from Kevin Corrigan.
Even with a comfortable lead, Faulkner couldn't settle. He allowed a single and two walks before exiting with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth.
"It's a big situation," Faulkner said. "I started leaving the ball up. It was only right to bring somebody else in."
Somebody else was Tyler Sturges, who fell behind leadoff batter Kyle Boe 3-1. Needing to essentially groove a fastball, Sturges did and Boe was ready, and he hit it out for a game-tying grand slam.
The BeeJays were retired in order in the bottom of the fourth, and it seemed as if the tide had turned.
"I thought we had a chance," Aden said. "It was down to a five-inning game at that point and I thought we had a chance. We just didn't create a break for ourselves."
Liberal took the lead in the fifth on an RBI fielder's choice in the fifth. Sturges was threatened in the sixth, so Cruz was called upon to escape a jam, which he did with the strikeout.
The BeeJays added a pair of runs in the sixth on RBI hits by Blake Bergeron and Vaskas. The lead proved to be in good hands as Cruz regained his form from earlier this summer. His ERA during the tournament was above 10.00, nearly eight runs higher than during the regular season.
"One of my things is I don't look at the scoreboard," Cruz said. "I assume we're tied or down by one or up by one. That's just the way I do it."