The Intercounty Baseball League finals are now one-game sudden-death on Friday night, after Toronto Maple Leafs designated hitter Sean Reilly ended a 13-inning marathon game four with a walk-off home run on Thursday.
The Maple Leafs came back from a four-run deficit to the London Majors and received seven scoreless innings of relief from Dustin Richardson to set up thet 6-5 victory at Christie Pits.
“I call him our back pocket ace, he pitched in the Big Leagues (Boston Red Sox, 29 appearances), he knows those moments,” said Leafs manager Damon Topolie. “I had to bring him in in the seventh because if I don’t, there is no tomorrow.”
Both teams had their aces on the mound to start the game, Justin Cicatello for Toronto, and Pedro De Los Santos, for the Majors.
Cicatello pitched six innings, surrendering five earned runs on seven hits while recording five strikeouts. Despite facing constant heckling from the Maple Leafs fans, De Los Santos pitched seven and two-thirds innings, allowing two earned runs on nine hits while striking out three.
Down 4-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Toronto finally got some offence going. A Marcus Knecht single, a Chandler McLaren RBI double, and a Connor Lewis RBI single put the first two runs on the board for the home side.
Asked what he said to his players during the many momentum changes in the game, Topolie kept it light.
“Enjoy the moment, this is what we play for, let it happen don’t try and force it. We tried to force it in a couple situations, and it didn’t work out, but once you stay relaxed and let the play come to you it happens.”
After London added a run in the top of the seventh, Knecht scored Justin Marra on a long sacrifice fly, and brother Dan Marra doubled home Reilly to make the score 5-4.
Lewis drew a walk to start the eighth, and advanced to third after two groundouts, before Reilly singled him home to tie the game.
“He’s just a big-time player, showtime for a reason,” said Topolie about Reilly, who is batting a team leading .462 in the playoffs.
One aspect the Toronto manager wanted his team to incorporate after the game three loss was putting more balls in play and forcing London to make plays.
This proved to be successful as the Maple Leafs put together many quality at bats, resulting in four errors for London. They had 13 hits in the game, and only struck out five times, while the Majors struck out 18 times.
With a short turnaround before the deciding game five, Topolie is confident his team will be ready.
“There hasn’t been preparation all along, these guys are just ready to play, throw them out there and let them go,” he said.
A large and vocal crowd, the home fans at Dominico Field braved a chilly 13-innings, not letting up on their taunts of the Majors for the duration of the game.
“That’s why we’re here, that’s why I’m talking to you guys, it’s a memorable moment and it helps us, that’s our homefield advantage,” Topolie said of the crowd. “Now we just have to take the momentum from today to the game tomorrow and just go play.”
Game five will end a championship drought for one of the teams, the Maple Leafs last won in 2007, the Majors last in 1975.
First pitch for game five gets underway at 7:30 on Friday night from Labatt Memorial Park in London and can be streamed here.