Solomon’s Rock-Solid Pitching Evens MSBL Masters Championship Series

After losing game one of the MSBL Masters 38+ Championship series on a walk-off grand slam, the Avi Nelson Rockies were immediately faced with a 1-0 deficit in the top of the first. However, that would prove to be the only run allowed by Rockies’ starter Ethan Solomon in the Rockies’ 5-1 victory over the Bistro 781 Bulls on Friday night.

“Well for most of the year, Ethan has just really been a bulldog,” said Rockies’ first baseman Mike Barthel. “His bread-and-butter pitch is his slider, which everyone in the league talks about. It’s got unbelievable movement. It looks like a fastball coming out of his hand and my guess is that a lot of hitters have trouble just picking up that pitch and that’s why it’s been his go-to pitch.”

Soloman fired his third straight complete game, surrendering just two hits, walking two and collecting a season-high 13 strikeouts in the process. This marked his second consecutive postseason outing with 10+ strikeouts. First baseman Steve Busby was the only Bulls’ hitter to reach base twice against Solomon with an RBI single and walk.

“My focus is always to just go out there and get ahead of hitters and trust what I have in the tank and go out and try to execute one pitch at a time,” said Solomon.  

Soloman was awarded his second consecutive MSBL Masters 38+ division Cy Young Award, finishing the regular season with a 3-1 record with a 1.20 ERA, walking five, and striking out 53 hitters for the Rockies. 

During his first Cy Young campaign in 2020, Solomon finished the season with just three walks and 18 strikeouts.

“He has a good mix of pitches (slider and changeup) and this is why he is the best pitcher in the league and won the CY Young,” said Bulls’ catcher Kevin Lyons. “[You] have to tip your cap to him.”

In the bottom of the third inning, his offense broke through with a four-run rally. First baseman Mike Barthel’s bases-loaded 2-run single started the scoring for the Rockies, putting the Rockies up 2-1. Barthel leads the team in RBIs (6) this postseason. 

“The table setters as usual were able to draw walks, get on base and really put the middle of the order hitters, like myself, in a position where I can deliver,” said Barthel. “Thinking about that inning, their pitcher fell behind in some counts and it was just one of those situations where I came up to the plate, I got a good pitch to hit, hit it hard and was able to turn things around for the team.”

The third run of the inning came across thanks to a throwing error by Bulls’ starter Robert Austin, who attempted a pickoff play at second base. Steve Miller scored from second on the error and Nate Knowles added an RBI single six pitches later to extend the lead to 4-1. Two innings later, Mike Tufo added an insurance run with an RBI fielder’s choice to officially cap the scoring. The Rockies have scored five runs or more thirteen times this postseason. 

Both Ethan Solomon and Mike Barthel agree that their team’s key to success moving forward is their pitching. The Rockies’ pitching staff has struck out 60 hitters and have combined for a 1.96 ERA this postseason ranking first in both categories in the MSBL Masters 38+ division. 

“It’s about doing the same stuff that’s gotten us here,” said Solomon. “Pitch to contact, fill out the strike zone on the mound, make the routine plays and then compete at the plate.” 

“Ethan is obviously our leader on the mound, but we have several guys who throw the ball very well,” said Barthel. “We have the luxury of throwing a number of arms at them and we do feel like we have the advantage in that sense.” 

The Bulls won game three of the series tonight, 4-2, securing a 2-1 series lead. They now sit one win away from being crowned the 2021 MSBL Masters Division champions of the Boston Men’s Baseball League. Visit bostonmabl.com to view this week’s complete Boston Men’s Baseball League postseason schedule.

In the meantime, click the video below to relive the Bulls’ walk off grand slam from game one with the call coming from Boston Men’s Baseball League broadcasters Dan Field and Brett Rudy during a Facebook live stream of the contest.

The Mocka Rays Secure Game 1 with Chilly Shutout 

For the second straight season, the Middleboro Mocka Rays (19-2-1) and Boston Havoc (14-6-2) face off for the right to be crowned MABL 18+ champions. With temperatures dropping to 55 degrees on Thursday night in game one, the Mocka Rays won their second straight shutout to place themselves two wins away from repeating as champions. 

Center fielder Nick Radcliffe provided all the offense with two hits and two RBIs in the first three innings. Radcliffe was ranked second on the team in RBIs (18), behind DH Mike Knell who finished the season with 26.  

On the mound, starter Justin Sylvia was nearly unhittable, allowing just four baserunners the entire night. He carried a perfect game through three innings, before Havoc center fielder Brendan Pounds reached on a single to start the fourth. However that did not last long, as catcher Derek Pizzaro fired a strike to throw out Pounds attempting to steal second on the next pitch.  

“People need to start reading the scouting report on (Pizzaro),” said Radcliffe. 

Sylvia finished the night striking out 10 hitters, and he now leads the Mocka Rays’ staff with 17 this postseason. This was his first win this postseason and second complete game. 

Justin Sylvia enters game two with 70 career strikeouts (including postseason). Photo by Dan Field

“I’d say my curveball helped shutdown the Havoc,” said Sylvia. “I was able to throw it over the top for a 12:6 curveball, and at times changed my arm angle to make my curveball look like a slider to throw off the batter. It seemed to work well, so I stuck with it.” 

The Mocka Rays’ rotation have allowed two runs or less in eight of their nine postseason contests, while striking out 57 batters along the way. They have complied a 7-2 record in the process. With this 2-0 victory, the Mocka Rays have now outscored the Boston Havoc (formerly the Boston White Sox) 11-0 in their last three postseason matchups.   

“Each of us just need to keep being a team player,” said Sylvia. “Having each other’s backs defensively and offensively, and keep taking it one pitch at a time.” 

Game two of the series is currently in progress at Pierce Playground in Middleboro, MA. 

The Bulls 15 Run Primetime Outburst  

Leading up to Friday Night’s Contest in Lynn, the story of the night was poised to be scattered showers moving into the area and threatening to postpone game two of the Boston MSBL Masters semifinals series between the Bistro 781 Bulls and Boston Dodgers. Instead, only a few brief drops of rain fell, and the Bulls wasted no time jump-starting their offense.  

The Bulls scored runs in five of the six innings on the night in route to a 15-2 route. Their biggest inning came in the fifth inning, where they entered leading 8-2, but broke the game open scoring five runs. The game would end in the sixth inning, because of the slaughter rule policy, which states that if a team is leading by more than 12 runs after 4 and a half innings, the game will be called, according to the Masters (38+) Rules and Regulations

First baseman Steve Busby and catcher David Lightbody had a busy night on the bases finishing with seven hits, eight RBIs, and four runs scored to pace his offense. The Bulls finished with 15 hits, six walks drawn, and eight different players finished with at least one RBI.  

This game marked the seventh time this season the Bulls have scored in double figures this season (including the playoffs). They lead the MSBL Masters division in both runs scored (41) and hits (55) this postseason. During the same stretch they outscored their opponents 39-17. 

The Bulls ended the 2021 regular season ranked first in OPS (.913) in the MSBL Masters division. Photo by Whitney Dowds

“We have depth throughout our whole lineup,” said Busby. “Our bottom of the lineup could top of the lineup guys for other teams.” 

That was more than enough run support for starter Jeff Fucarile, who fired a complete game, allowing just two runs on six hits and striking out two Dodgers and improving to 1-0 this postseason in the process. This was the seventh time this season he has surrendered two runs or less in an outing. 

“He threw a ton of strikes and gave us opportunities to make plays in the field,” said Busby. “He kept them off balance and then we were quickly getting up to bat again.” 

Game three of this series is scheduled for tomorrow night at 8 p.m. with the game location yet to be determined. The Bulls and Dodgers have split the first two games of this five-game series. 

The Red-Hot Spinners Extend Winning Streak to Nine Games 

The Cambridge Spinners (17-5) have won nine straight games dating back to August 1. They outscored their opponents 78-9 during that stretch. Their last defeat came against the South Shore Spartans (18-3) on July 28.  

On September 14, they closed out the regular season with a 4-0 victory over the Somerville Senators (6-15-1). In that contest, pitching and defense took center stage.  

Spinners’ starter Dan Blomerth fired six shutout innings, surrendering just one hit, walking one, and striking out two, earning his third win this season. Matt Lassard pitched a scoreless seventh adding two more strikeouts to complete the shutout. 

Blomerth is ranked third on the team in wins and Lassard is second on the staff in runs allowed (5) and strikeouts (24). Both pitchers have combined to allow just four runs since the beginning of August. 

This game was a ground ball clinic, as 11 ground ball outs were induced. More importantly for Cambridge, Blomerth managed to escape three bases loaded jams to keep the game scoreless. 

“They played a hell of a game behind me,” said Blomerth.  

Offensively, right fielder Sean Merrigan led the way by reaching base all four times, including two hits and a run scored. Seven Spinners finished with at least one hit. Ricky Salvia, Adam Johnson and Derek Richards were responsible for scoring the other three runs for Cambridge. 

The Spinners knocked in 157 runs this season, second behind the Boston Bombers at 193. Photo by Whitney Dowds

The Spinners are locked into the third seed in the MSBL 28+ division playoff seedings and set to face the Bay State Pirates (12-10) in the first round. 

“I think if we go out there and throw strikes and we don’t make mental mistakes out in the field, I think there is really no reason why we should get to win this whole thing,” said Blomerth. 

Visit http://www.bostonmabl.com/ to view the upcoming postseason schedule for Boston Men’s Baseball League. 

Meet Mike Knell, the Middleboro Mocka Rays’ Singles Machine

When examining the defending champion Middleboro Mocka Rays 13-2 start to the 2021 season, you will see Mike Knell’s offensive dominance right at the heart of the action. He has led his teams in both hits and RBIs this season. His 17 hits and 19 RBIs has earned him a 2021 Boston Men’s Baseball League All-Stars selection for the MABL 18+ division in addition to being awarded the Offensive Player of the Month in June. 

Knell entered the league in 1999 with Boston Braves, after turning down an accounting job at the firm Coopers and Lybrand, where the manager, Jeff Gauthier, referred him to this league.  Knell currently works as the Chief Accounting Officer at Charles River Laboratories. In addition, he is currently in his 19th season coaching his children’s soccer and basketball teams.

Knell is currently playing in his 23rd season in the Boston Men’s Baseball League with his fifth different team, which has resulted in six championships. He played every position on the field and currently has 432 career hits, scored 272 runs, and knocked in 280 RBIs in the process. 

“I played on a lot of great teams hitting in the middle of the order,” said Knell. “Hitting is contagious. When you are playing with a lot of great players, you get a lot of extra at-bats.”

His advice to players who are struggling offensively is to “not think too much” at the plate and “to go back to basics and hit some line drives.”

Playing on the third team of his career, he won two championships with Netherfield Reds from 2005-2009, winning the titles in 2006 and 2008. He recalled that his favorite championship from that time period came in 2008 when his team pulled off a surprising upset of the Boston Tigers team that entered the matchup with a 24-2 record to open the postseason. The Reds entered the series as an underdog with an 11-13 record and only 10 players qualified to play in the postseason. 

The teams split the first two games in convincing fashion. The Reds won game 1, 11-5, while the Tigers pitched an 8-0 shutout three nights later in game two to even the series and set up a win or go home matchup in the series finale.

The Tigers mounted an early 4-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. The Reds flipped the script, scoring all 11 of their runs in their final three innings and surrendering just three runs in the bottom of the seventh to cap the scoring. Knell finished the game with three hits and three RBIs to help pace the offense. 

They proceeded to complete two “grueling” five-game series against the Senators and Athletics to complete the championship run with each series going the distance. Netherfield was undefeated in elimination games that postseason with a 3-0 record.

Knell recalls his favorite personal performance came game three of the 2008 championship series against the Athletics where he fired a complete game, surrendering just two runs on three hits and striking out seven hitters along the way. He escaped a bases-loaded no-out jam in the first to keep his team in the game, helping his team to earn a close 3-2 win to give his team a 2-1 series. This performance was critical because no other pitchers were available for the Reds at the time.

“It was one of those (games) where everything goes our way and it was sort of destiny,” said Knell. “You sort of had a magical feel about that team.”

Offensively, he added a .320 average and lead his team in both hits (16) and RBIs (12) that postseason, marking his best offensive postseason performance of his career in both categories. Knell’s teams earned playoff berths in 20 of his 22 previous seasons. This included four championships between 2012-2020 with the Cambridge Spinners and Middleboro Mocka Rays.

Knell’s top performances of this season came during back-to-back games against the Boston Jakes (2-11), and Waltham Cutters (9-4) on June 20 and 24. He combined to go 5 for 8 with seven RBIs and one strikeout during that stretch helping the Mocka Rays outscore the Jakes and Cutters 31-3 in the process. 

76% of Mike Knell’s hits this season are singles. Photo by Whitney Dowds

“Any time you can bring a player of Knell’s caliber to a team it’s a big get,” said Mocka Rays manager Tyler Ferdinand. “His veteran presence as well as being a proven MABL champion has helped us get over the hump we were stuck on the last couple of years.”

Unfortunately, two days later he would suffer a torn upper left quad against the Singing Surgeons. As a result of two games being postponed due to inclement weather, he only missed one contest against the Boston Jakes. His doctor informed him the injury would heal in about 4-6 weeks.

“I hit a gapper and was thinking a home run and I was about to round first and I heard a loud pop,” said Knell. “Getting old sucks.”

He returned to action in Friday night’s contest against the Waltham Athletics, finishing 1 for 3 with a single, but was thrown out at second base trying to stretch it to a double. However, a complete-game shutout by Athletics’ starter Alec Christian spoiled his return as the Mocka Rays were defeated 1-0, snapping a six-game winning streak. 

Mike Knell and the Mocka Rays will seek redemption in the team’s rematch against the Waltham Athletics at Nipper Park in Waltham on Wednesday night. The first pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m.