Combining superior pitching with even better than expected offense, the Knights went 6-0 this weekend, winning their first tournament championship in the baseball capital of the world.
The Knights made the five-hour trip to Cooperstown on Thursday night, knowing little about the possible competition, and knowing less about how short-staffed they may be at various points in the weekend. But first, they had to contend with their hotel rooms.
The choice was the Budget Inn, located about twenty miles from Cooperstown. Samir, the manager (not the owner, he insisted) gave the Knights a "15% discount" for us to stay in the unimpressive lodgings. At the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, you might expect an assortment of cleaning supplies, soft sheets, prompt room service, and temperature control. While not expected to be up to those standards, the Budget Inn provided a thin bar of soap that would not lather, and two plastic cups for drinking the hard rural water. Sure, there was an AC unit in this reporter's room, and a fridge in the corner, but it's not as though they worked. At all. The infamous Room 8 went into disgusting territory, having hair all over the bed and pillows. Luckily, the accommodations proved to be the worst part of the weekend.
As it turns out, only 11 players arrived at Game 1 at Damasche Park to take on the L.I. Mets. While this was the fewest players they would have at any point, they determined that there would be a maximum of 7 pitchers to face as many as 6 opponents.
Billy Vogt took the mound against the Mets, a team that tied the Knights in the Stan Musial standings this year. The Knights started slowly but eventually piled it on, banging out 18 hits and winning the opener, 10-6. Vogt pitched a complete game, going 8 innings before the time limit prematurely ended the affair.
Dan O'Shea, in the lineup despite being used primarily as a pitcher, banged out a Knights record 5 hits in the leadoff spot. His line included a triple and 3 RBIs, and he scored three runs. Vogt batted for himself, knocking out 3 hits in the nine hole. Pat Conway slugged a two-run home run and drove in 3 for the game. Tommy Reilly, who played center for most of the tournament, had two doubles and also drove in 3 runs.
Due to a scheduling quirk, the Knights had to race 20 miles to get to the next game, scheduled only 20 minutes after the first. Game 2 was held at Doubleday Field, just a few blocks from the Baseball Hall of Fame. The game began shortly after they arrived, not giving them much of a chance to revel in the fact that they were playing in such a storied ballpark.
The Brookhaven Braves scored two runs off starter O'Shea in the first inning, but that was all they would get as O'Shea mowed down the Braves for the rest of his eight innings, striking out nine, and the Knights took this one, 10-2.
Conway launched a mammoth home run way beyond the left field fence in the bottom of the first to tie the game. Bobby Gruttadauria put the Knights ahead for good with a solo shot two batters later.
Reilly went 4-for-5 and scored three times. Conway and John Bosch each drove in 3 runs. Billy Vogt, another Knight with only a few at-bats during the regular season, had his second straight three-hit game, and he also scored three runs.
Jay Harmon closed the game out by pitching to his old catcher and long-time friend Paxton Provitera. Harmon was untouchable, pitching an incredibly efficient 6 pitch 9th inning (some of us think the pitch calling had something to do with it). With the awe of Doubleday and old promises coming true, we all know everyone was with us on this day.
Day Two began with the Knights taking on the New Hyde Park Tigers, a team for which the Knights had no scouting report. The Beaver Valley field, built over a ten-year period in the middle of a cornfield, evoked memories of "Field of Dreams", but this game was nearly a nightmare.
The Knights scored the first three runs of the game, including a (what else?) a Pat Conway home run to put the Knights on the board. But the Tigers kept it close with excellent defense and an efficient performance by pitcher Kevin Clark. Slowly, the Tigers chipped away, and sure enough, the scored was tied after nine innings at three apiece.
In the tenth inning, Anthony Chiaramonte hit a dramatic two-run home run to right field, putting the Knights ahead 5-3. Hector Rolon and newcomer Jeff Gorsky continued the rally with two-out singles, but the Knights couldn't get any more insurance runs.
Starter Greg Holmes, who had already pitched nine innings, allowed a one-out single in the bottom of the tenth before reliever Jay Harmon came out to get the last two outs. Holmes got the victory, going an incredible 9 1/3 innings, striking out 8.
Gruttadauria slugged two ground-rule doubles. Paxton Provitera went 2-for-2 with a walk and a timely RBI. Gorsky also had 2 hits.
Between games, the Knights found out that key starting pitcher Rob Maier had been in a car accident on the L.I.E. Rob was fine except for some stiffness, but he would not be coming up to play. By that point, the Knights had won three games out of three against division opponents to clinch a spot in the semifinals. This was huge, because they could save their depleted pitching staff by using a position player on the mound in Game 4.
And that throwaway Game 4 was against the L.I. Black Sox, their likely opponent in the first round of the playoffs. Bosch took the mound for the Knights, and other players out of position were Holmes (who somehow played short despite having thrown, remember, 9 1/3 innings just hours before), and Reilly, who caught. Bosch kept the Sox off balance with a combination of fastballs and change-ups, allowing only five runs on seven hits, picking up his first victory as a Knight pitcher. The Knights took this one, 10-5.
And speaking of firsts, after three full seasons with the team, Harmon, who only batted 18 times, scored his first ever run AND slapped an 0-2 pitch into center in his only at-bat, scoring a run for his first ever RBI.
Chiaramonte went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Holmes picked up his first two Knights hits, stole a base, and made some great plays at short. Provitera had an RBI single, and pitched the last inning (his first appearance on the mound), striking out a batter.
So after two days, the Knights were 4-0. After the game they divided up. Some napped, some ate, some enjoyed what Cooperstown had to offer. But there were some surprises to come that evening.
After Anthony and Trish returned from Cooperstown, Anthony went to Paxton's room to tell him that "he bumped into an old friend from high school." Sure enough, that friend turned out to be none other than Rob Maier, who only by coincidence found us! Sure enough, Rob made the trip up, and he was penciled in as the starter for the semifinal game.
Also, went Paxton and Jay came back from dinner, there was a police car outside the hotel. "Uh-oh," they thought, "the team's getting arrested." What happened was that our shady friend Samir had doubled charged one of our irate team members, the one that ended up with Room 8, no less. Tempers flared, but nothing came of it. If anything, it took our minds of baseball for a little while. A good thing, since we had been immersed in it for two days straight by then. Late night cards saw Tommy and John win big, but Sunday afternoon, it would be back to business.
Game 5, the Semifinal against the L.I. Black Sox, turned out to be a much simpler game than expected. The Knights had done their homework in the previous game, scouting the opponent to see how to beat them in a game that would matter.
Maier was in control from beginning to end, allowing just two runs on 6 hits, going the distance in the 9-2 Knights decision. It was a balanced offensive attack, as Chiaramonte, Gorsky, Gruttadauria, and O'Shea, had multi-hit games, and seven players drove in runs. Reilly's 2-run double was the death bell for the Sox.
The Knights went into Game 6 riding high. They had won five straight, and they somehow had three available pitchers (Rob insisted that he was a fourth, despite having just pitched a complete game) to face the juggernaut Seminoles.
Well, if they were the Seminoles, then the Knights were Noles, because there was nothing 'semi' about this victory, 5-2.
The Knights struck first, putting two runs of on the board in each of the first two innings. But the Seminoles staged a furious rally in the decisive bottom of the seventh, loading the bases for star power hitter Greg Sarra. Reilly got Sarra to fly out to Provitera in deep left field to end the game.
Reilly started and went the distance, striking out seven. He also collected three hits in four trips to the plate. Bosch and Conway had two hits.
After the game, the Knights were presented with their first trophy. The team posed for several pictures to commemorate the occasion.
Congratulations to Bobby Molinaro and Paxton Provitera, who found some of Long Island's best players and built this team from scratch just three years ago. The Knights will continue on indefinitely, and next year will return to the Stan Musial league to attempt to earn the divisional championship that so barely eluded them this year. There have been several mentions of even continuing their momentum by playing fall ball.
* The Knights' offense banged out double-digit hit numbers in each game, and allowed only single-digit hit numbers by their opponents. In total, the Knights outhit the competition 84-44, and outscored them, 49-20. The Knights finished with a team batting average of .391.
* Oddly enough, the Knights had a one player to have each of 1 hit, 2 hits, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 hits during the weekend. Tommy Reilly led with the 13 hits.
* Billy Vogt and Dan O'Shea combined for 5 hits during the regular season. However, they combined for an amazing 23 hits in the six-game tournament! Being on base so much puts you in a position to score, and that they did. Vogt led the team with 9 runs, and O'Shea tied Pat Conway for second with 7.
* Conway led the team in RBIs this weekend with 11. Reilly had 7, and O'Shea had 6. Conway also had three home runs.
* Hector Rolon caught 13 innings of baseball on Friday and all 14 innings on Sunday. He's probably still icing his knees.
* Paxton's father, Hank Provitera, manned the Doubleday Field scoreboard for both of the Knights' games at the legendary location.
* An E-mail from George Wood...
Subject: Congrats! ( you were a" NATURAL")
To Pax and the guys - Congrats! You played great at EAB - but to win it all at Cooperstown 2001 - well that's truly Great! Hope to face you guys in the fall.
Coach Wood/ Port Jeff Mudcats