DARIEN — Issuing walks are about as appealing to Norwalk baseball coach Pete Tucci as mustard on cottage cheese. Errors are a very close second.
So you can imagine the sour taste in Tucci’s stomach at Darien on Thursday afternoon when his starting pitcher, Mike Gonzalez, walked the leadoff hitter in the third inning, setting the stage for consecutive throwing errors that led to four runs.
That incidentally was the difference as the Blue Wave won for the eighth time in nine games, a 5-1 decision against one of the preseason favorites.
Referring to his least two favorite things, Tucci said, “That’s what we had today and we bunched them all in one inning, which made matters worse. The team that makes the fewest amount of mistakes, and I count walks and errors the same, are going to win. I told them offensively we tied them 1-1, defensively they beat us 4-0.”
We will get back to the Bears in a moment, because the real story of the day and perhaps of the season so far was the fundamentally sound play by Darien. Coach Mike Scott said his team’s fortunes will depend on pitching and defense, and he got both on Thursday.
Justin Jordan, making his first career start, went five innings, allowing one run on just four hits, with seven strikeouts and no walks. Rich Brereton came on and allowed one hit the rest of the way.
“You play a clean game, you get good pitching from our two guys today and you are the beneficiaries of a a couple of their mistakes, sometimes that’s all it takes to win a ballgame,” Scott said. “We certainly benefited from some of the mistakes Norwalk made but our guys put them in those situations. They put a little pressure on them and forced them to make plays.”
Jordan, who had been effective in relief, made the start after the game was pushed up a day because of an advance forecast for rain on Friday. Jones found out moments after the Blue Wave’s win over Stamford on Wednesday.
“I was a little nervous but I was fine,” Jordan said. “I threw strikes, my defense helped me out a lot. Hopefully we will keep it going and win more games.”
As we reach the midway point of the season, any descriptions referring to preseason predictions should now be retired. They are outdated and, more importantly, proving to be inaccurate. The top of the league so far appears eminently beatable, while the supposed middle class runs deep and is better than expected.
Making forecasts even with this much data to go by right now are a fool’s errand.
Tucci admitted the hype for the Bears came off their state tournament run to the semifinals, which took a couple of rallies and close wins to execute. That hardly diminishes the accomplishment but, as Tucci cautioned, it also is no basis for awarding crowns prematurely.
“We were touted by the people who saw the last few games,” Tucci said. “We scratched them out but we earned it. This year it hasn’t happened yet.”
And it doesn’t mean it won’t. The Bears’ 4-3 overall mark masks that the Darien game was their first loss in league play. They were the last unbeaten team.
Gonzalez, who allowed just three hits, though he walked four, was deserving of a better fate.
“Michael threw the ball well,” Tucci said. “I wish our fielders threw the ball as well as Michael. We lost to a team that played very well. They threw the ball well, they threw strikes and they hit the ball when they had to.”
If you wanted to describe the FCIAC season to date in seven innings, Thursday’s game would be a perfect choice.
Scott said of Jordan, “He was thrown into the fire and I liked the way he competed. He didn’t back down, he didn’t show any signs of weakness. He went right after their guys. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Then, as perhaps a cautionary reminder of what is still to come — many teams have played nearly as many non-league games as in conference — Scott added a point of emphasis.
“Success can be fleeting,” he said. “We want to keep grinding.”