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SPORTS: Silent Pits hold fond memories for Maple Leafs Pitcher (July 2020)

August 7th, 2020 · No Comments

As 2020 season is cancelled, Marek Deska recounts historic no-hitter

By R.S. Konjek 

Marek Deska smiles as he remembers that night.

“The cool thing was, I knew the whole time.”  

Deska is recounting his role in one of the most historic baseball games in Toronto Maple Leafs history.

On August 15, 2018, Deska and fellow pitcher Zach Sloan teamed up to defeat the Guelph Royals by tossing the only postseason no-hitter in the 102-year history of the Inter-county Baseball League. On top of that, the 6-2 victory eliminated Guelph and propelled the Leafs onward in the playoffs that summer.

Many of the fans at Christie Pits that night were unaware that they had witnessed history. A rough sixth inning saw the Royals send seven men to the plate and score two runs. Despite all that activity at the plate, they did not record a hit.

Sloan was the starting pitcher for the Leafs, and he cruised through the first five innings of the game, striking out seven Guelph batters. 

While Sloan held his opponents in check, the Leafs put two runs on the board early.

It was not until the sixth inning that Sloan ran into trouble. He threw two wild pitches, two intentional walks, hit a batter with a pitch, made an error, and watched one of his fielders make another error. When the dust settled, the Royals had tied the game 2-2. 

Deska had watched most of the game from the Leafs’ bench, then moved to the bullpen when manager Damon Topolie asked him to start warming up.  After Sloan got through the sixth inning, he trudged off the field and vented to his teammate. 

“He sounded disappointed because he pitched so well against that lineup and they still eeked out two runs,” Deska recalls. In the back of his mind, he knew that Sloan had not given up a hit to that point in the game. 

“I always know. To me, the goal is always perfection. It may not be realistic at times, but if you set your expectations high enough, you’ll find a higher level of confidence that keeps you constantly sharp.”

A fan favourite for 13 seasons with the Leafs, Deska took the ball with the task of finishing the final three innings in order to win the game, clinch the series, and achieve something every pitcher dreams of. As a teenager, Deska had pitched in three no-hitters, but never at this level.

The Leafs took some of the pressure off their reliever’s shoulders by scoring four late runs to provide him with a comfortable lead, although any pitcher would agree that no lead is ever comfortable enough.

Deska hunkered down and pitched a perfect seventh inning. He survived a slightly-less-perfect eighth, and then three more outs were all that separated Sloan and Deska from destiny.

Toronto baseball has seen many no-hitters.

From 1885 to 1967, over a dozen of them were recorded by the Leafs’ minor league predecessor in the International League.

The Toronto Blue Jays have a lone no-hitter to their name, pitched by Dave Stieb in 1990.

The Leafs of Christie Pits have also recorded no-hitters, most recently by Rob Patterson in 2000.

Never before had there been a situation like this one. It was the deciding game of a postseason series. Not only was a no-hitter at stake, but if the Leafs blew the game their season would come crashing to an end.

Deska was determined not to let that happen, and returned to the mound in the ninth inning with a plan.

“I knew that all I needed to do was throw strikes to secure the win,” he recalls. “The strange thing was that they did not make any real adjustments. I was going with my regular routine of getting ahead of the batter and making them hit my pitch. I did notice that they started taking a strike near the later innings, but that just allowed me to get ahead of another hitter.”

The first batter grounded out.

“I attacked the next two batters with fastballs.”

The next man up struck out swinging.

“My slider was sharp and I had great life on my fastball that night.”

The last man up for the Royals also went down swinging. Deska got the final out and the Leafs won the game and the series.

“That last punch out was a belt-high fastball with some added zip to it to put an exclamation point on the night.”

The Leafs celebrated on the field and Deska kept the ball that marked the final out of the game.

For Sloan, Deska and the rest of the Leafs, that game remains their most recent postseason success. They were eliminated by the Kitchener Panthers in the following round of the 2018 playoffs, and were eliminated by Kitchener again in the first round last year.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to postpone its season, and the City of Toronto closed all sports fields. In late June, there remained a faint possibility that the Leafs might be able to play a truncated season at Christie Pits.

If it happens, Deska will be back.

“I’m itching to go,” he says. “A summer without baseball feels odd. I’ll keep pitching as long as I can help the team win games. I’m realistic and I’m sure I’ll know when my time is up. But not yet.”

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