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SPORTS: Slumping Leafs hope to change (Summer 2018)

August 12th, 2018 · No Comments

Fans on the slopes of Christie Pits take in Maple Leafs baseball action on July 25. R.S. Konjek/Gleaner News

Lengthy losing streak dulls early season momentum

By R.S. Konjek

July was the cruellest month for Toronto baseball fans.

Over at the dome, the major league Blue Jays drifted out of contention, waved the white flag and traded away all-star pitcher J.A. Happ.

At Christie Pits, the Maple Leafs plunged into a protracted slump. After a promising start to the 2018 season, a 10-game losing streak dropped them down to the middle of the Intercounty Baseball League standings.

With the club enjoying an improved roster this year and most players avoiding injuries, the downswing has been puzzling.

The Leafs attempted to return to the win column on July 25 when they hosted the Kitchener Panthers for a night game at Dominico Field.

As the players emerged from the clubhouse for warm-ups, I asked some of them to describe the mood of the ballclub during the slump.

“We talk about it, but we keep it in the back of our heads,” said outfielder Grant Tamane. “We have to keep playing hard and stay healthy.”

Pitcher R. J. Page offered a calm perspective.

“With a streak like that you would expect bickering and negativity, but it’s not that way,” he said. “We will snap out of it.”

Throughout this season, there has been a pattern to games between the Maple Leafs and Panthers.

It goes like this: the Panthers take an early lead and they stretch it out a mighty distance. The Leafs battle back like scrappers and legends, but fall just short of victory. All four of their games this year have followed this script.

Would the team take a different approach this time?

“We have to grind tonight,” said pitcher Zach Sloan. “We have lots of confidence in each other. They’re one of the best teams, but we always play well against the best teams.”

“Start earlier,” added Tamane, with a nod to the Panthers’ habit of jumping ahead and the need to counter that by scoring early.

Despite the positive vibes and assertive approach, the Leafs and Panthers both got off to a quiet start during the Wednesday night game.

The first few innings flew by as a pitchers’ duel ensued. Toronto starter Pedro De Los Santos completed five scoreless innings before it even got dark.

The Panthers scored first in the top of the sixth. They racked up six hits and scored four runs. De Los Santos was relieved by Will Newton, who got out of the inning with a pair of strikeouts.

The Leafs punched right back in the bottom of the inning. Manager Damon Topolie — who was also Toronto’s designated hitter on the night — hit a two-run single to make it 4-2 Panthers through six innings.

The momentum stayed with the home nine, who were urged on by a boisterous crowd spread out on the slopes surrounding the field. They rallied for four more runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-4 lead.

Sloan was called out of the bullpen to pitch the final two innings and nail down that elusive win. The lanky lefty pitched a scoreless eighth inning, setting the stage for a decisive final frame.

Then the roof caved in. The Panthers pounced on Sloan and knocked in five runs on five hits, including a home run. Sloan battled his way out of the inning, but Kitchener had taken a 9-6 lead. The Leafs were unable to respond in the bottom of the ninth. They changed the script, but the result was the same.

As the players trudged back to the clubhouse and fans melted away into the night, it was important to remember something said earlier by pitcher Page.

“Everything evens out. You can have a .400 hitter who goes into a .100 streak, but everything evens out.” This is very true in the game of baseball, where hot streaks can quickly become cold ones, and vice versa.

Perhaps it is better that the Leafs go through the doldrums now and get hot again in time for the playoffs.

The regular season at Christie Pits will be wrapping up soon, and playoff action will begin in early August. Please visit mapleleafsbaseball.point for schedule updates.



SPORTS: Many hats, one goal for Topolie (July 2018)

SPORTS: Maple Leafs back at the Pits (Election Special 2018)

NEWS: Celebrating a legendary Leaf (Jan. 2018)

ON OUR COVER: Cycling the Pits (Fall 2017)

SPORTS: Leafs fall early this summer (AUGUST 2017)

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