D.J. King should have been at a loss for words. His Waynesboro Generals team, which had played so well down the stretch, winning nine in a row at one point, going 16-5 just to get to Game 3 of the Jim Lineweaver Cup with a shot to clinch the Valley League championship at home, seemed to be falling apart in front of his very eyes.
Down 5-0 in the second inning, his team having committed three errors, his starting pitcher, who didn’t get an out in the second inning before being lifted, having thrown three wild pitches, two of which allowed runs to score, this was not D.J. King baseball.
But what was to come was D.J. King baseball. His constant reminder to his charges, all season long, like a mantra, was “Execute, execute, execute.”
“That’s been our motto all along, execute and win the little things,” King said after Waynesboro rallied from that early 5-0 deficit to win 7-6 on a walkoff RBI single by Mike Marcinko in the bottom of the ninth.
“We kicked some balls early. I think we make two fairly routine plays in the first, and it’s a 2-0 ballgame, and we run away with it,” King said. “But we’re down there in the second, and our big thing is, quality at bats, win the little things, and that’s why we say, Execute, execute. We knew going in if we could get to their pen that we could do some damage, and those guys just did it.”
The only deviation from the plan came in the bottom of the second. Staring at that five-run deficit, King went against his instincts after Garrett Russini reached on an error to lead off the inning, and had Kyle Pitts swing away rather than bunt the runner over. Pitts hit into a double play, and the Generals missed out on an early opportunity to get back into the ballgame,
“We didn’t bunt, we hit into the double play, and I was kicking myself for it. I’m sitting there thinking, we’ve still got to play for one. We tried to play for the big inning a little too soon,” King said. “We went back, next inning get the leadoff guy on, bunt him over, and push two across out of that. That’s what we do. We win at the little things.”
That two-run third was “huge” for Waynesboro to give the Generals, and the home fans, something to build on.
“We didn’t tie the game or anything, but if you were in our dugout, you would have thought we did,” King said. “We had been shut out for nine innings yesterday (in an 8-0 loss in Game 2 at Charles Town on Tuesday). We were shut out for the first three today, so we push two across, and it was like, OK, here we go.”
And reliever Jeff Schank was key to keeping the game close until the bats could get going. Schank ended up giving Waynesboro six innings of relief work, giving up an unearned run on four hits, and in his time in the game the Generals were able to fight back from the 5-0 deficit to tie the game at 6-6.
Schank, as it turns out, had injured himself in a weight-training session last week, to a point where he wasn’t even able to ride the bus to Covington for Game 2 of the semifinal series with the Lumberjacks last weekend. But a visit to a local chiropractor worked the injury out, and Schank told King he wanted the ball to start Game 3.
“I debated starting him tonight,” said King, who went instead with Micah Gorman on short rest, and after Gorman struggled with command early, King went with his gut feeling to use the quick hook in the top of the second to go to Schank.
“It’s not something I like to do, but we did, and he settled in early and pitched his tail off for us,” King said.
King also went with a gut feeling regarding using Game 1 starter and winner Griffin Krieg in relief in Game 3.
“I had Griff marked off for today,” King said. “He came up to me earlier, and he actually had gotten on the mound, and he told me, I’ve got three in me tonight. I said, No, you’ve got one smart one in you tonight.”
When reliever Will Lowman got in trouble in the ninth, allowing the Cannons to put runners on first and third with two outs, King went to Krieg.
“I got him on the mound, and I said, You’ve got to make one pitch. Not one inning, not three innings, you’ve got to make one pitch,” King said of Krieg, who induced an inning-ending ground ball to get out of the trouble.
Executing and winning the little things during the 11-3 run that Waynesboro ended the regular season on was what provided the opportunity to win in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 of the championship series.
“We fought the whole second half of the season after the all-star break to get up in that top three because we knew we’d have home-field advantage,” King said. “That’s why we fought. When you’re in a game like this, home-field is the biggest thing, and it paid off. All the effort we put into winning the little things, it paid off there for us.”
When Marcinko ripped the 1-0, two-out pitch from reliever Jacob Anthony into left field for the championship-clinching base hit, it all came to a head for King.
“The immediate reaction was, Oh, my God, that just happened,” said King, whose next instinct was to seek out his assistant coaches, Matt Williams and Josh Tutwiler.
Not a bad way to end your first season as a head coach in the Valley League.
“It’s going to be a lot to live up to next year,” King said.
– Column by Chris Graham