At 4-1 in the fifth inning, last night's game was all set to be another routine win for the first-place Lexington Blue Sox over the middle-of-the-pack Reading Bulldogs in Intercity Baseball League action.
But a couple of sloppy plays and Reading (6-9-1) hits later, Lexington ace Steve Bodnar had been knocked out of the game, and the score was tied 4-4. And despite serious Blue Sox threats to score a go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth and what would have been the winning run in either of two extra innings, the pesky Bulldogs held on.
The game ended in a 4-4 tie after nine innings, Lexington (14-3-1)'s first tie since the Blue Sox tied Watertown 1-1 on July 17, 2009.
"We were in control, in the driver's seat, and we lost our way," Blue Sox manager Rick DeAngelis said. "We let a couple of sloppy plays effect us."
The trouble started with one out in the top of the fourth, as Bodnar, who j against Waterown, walked Reading's Darren Hartwell. Hartwell stole second and advanced to third after a throwing error from Blue Sox catcher Jeff Nolet, and then came home after an ill-advised overthrow on a sacrifice fly sailed over Nolet's head and went to the backstop.
Two hits and a walk later, the score was 4-4 and Bodnar was out of the game.
Even with those sloppy plays, Lexington still had a golden chance to take the lead with a runner on second and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, as shortstop Steve Gath stepped to the plate.
Gath, who is from Reading, had already hurt his hometown team with a two-run blast in the third inning to put the Blue Sox ahead 4-1. He'd also had two sparkling defensive plays in the game --a leaping grab on a line drive in the third, and a strong throw to first on the move to retire a Bulldog in the fourth.
With a chance to put his team ahead in the eighth, Gath ripped a fastball to right-center, the ball trailing away fast from Reading centerfielder T.J. Murphy as the entire Lexington dugout rose to its feet.
A go-ahead hit would have put Lexington in commanding position, with dominant southpaw Mike O'Brien set to close the game in the seventh. But Murphy had other plans, and made a full-extension leaping catch to keep the game tied.
"I thought that it was going to fall," Gath said after the game, still shaking his head in wonder. "But I know T.J, and I know he has good speed, and he just tracked it down."
Lexington's next chance to close the game came in the bottom of the eighth, when centerfielder Pete Frates scorched another line drive to centerfield with a runner on second. This time, Murphy had a bit more breathing room, and moved to his left to make the catch on the run.
Reading's Sean Boyle allowed one hit over four scoreless innings to close the game, after relieving Bulldog starter Colin McGinn. Lexington's O'Brien did his part to keep the game tied as well, with eight strikeouts in 4 1/3 frames after replacing Bodnar.
The Blue Sox will attempt to get back in the win column tonight at Playstead Park in Medford at 6:00 against the Medford Americans.
"A tie is not what we set out to accomplish," DeAngelis said. "I wouldn't call it a failure, but it's not what we're trying to do."