Royals win first O-40 baseball title
Prior to the start of the Eastern Baltimore County Over-40 Baseball League season, several members of the Royals got together to discuss whether to continue playing, or fold the team.
So did several members of another league team, the Cubs.
Both teams decided to stick around for, at least, one more season. And on Sunday the two teams met in the league championship game at the American Legion Post 38 field.
The Royals rallied from an early five-run deficit to win their first league title, 11-8.
“We had a meeting at the local pub before the season to decide if we would keep playing,” Royals manager Jeff Patti said. “I thought everyone was going to say, time to pack it in.
“But they all decided to come back and give it one more shot.”
The Royals joined the league in 2011, the leaue’s second year. For their first several seasons, they would usually have one of the best records during the regular season, only to falter in the playoffs.
This season, the Royals entered the postseason tournament with an average record (7-6), then went 3-0 in the playoffs to reach the championship game for the first time and win the title.
“The baseball gods have a funny way of working,” Patti said. “All those years we thought we should have won it, and we win it the year no one expected us to win.”
Both the Cubs and the Royals advanced to the championship game with upsets in the semifinals; the Cubs knocking off the regular-season champion Cardinals and the Royals eliminating the defending champion Dodgers.
The Cubs jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead over the Cardinals and held on; the Royals fell behind the Dodgers and rallied for the win.
After three innings on Sunday, the Cubs led the Royals 5-0.
“It was too early to panic,” Patti said. “We were not having our best day, made some errors and stuff we don’t usually do.”
While the game seemed to be unfolding in the Cubs’ favor, they also knew there was still a long way to go.
“There was a long way to go,” Cubs manager Dave Cundiff said.
It actually didn’t take that long at all. The Royals scored five runs in the top of the fourth inning to tie the score.
Five straight batters — Ryan Moran, Rich O’Malley, Bryan Wilhelm, Jeff Wilhelm and Mitch Stringer all reached base and scored.
The fourth run scored on a fielder’s choice, and the tying run came home on a balk.
It was a new ballgame — and then the Royals seemed to hand the game back to the Cubs in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs and no one on base, the Royals hit a batter and then waled the next batter.
The Cubs took advantage. Cundiff ripped a two-run double to center, then scored on Bill’s bloop single to right field to give the Cubs an 8-5 lead.
“At that point I was, like, what the heck,” Patti said. “Then Bryan [Wilhelm] went into the game to pitch and said ‘I got this.’”
Bryan Wilhelm shut out the Cubs over the final five innings, giving up only two hits.
The Royals cut their deficit to one run in the top of the sixth. A hit batter and a single put runners at first and third. An error on a steal of second base brought home one run, and the second scored on Andy Corkran’s sacrifice bunt.
The Royals tied the game in the seventh inning on an RBI single by Paul Cerebelli, then scored three runs in the top of the eighth.
A walk, error, and an infield single loaded the bases with one out. After one run scored on a fielder’s choice, Corkran lined a double to left field to give the Royals an 11-8 lead.
Two double plays, in the fifth and eighth innings, helped the Royals hold back the Cubs.
“What’s frustrating is that, in the seventh inning we kind of beat ourselves,” Cundiff said. “We made a couple of errors, and when they got ahead, they didn’t look back.”
One of the original teams when the league started in 2010, the Cubs almost didn’t make it back this season.
“We almost folded,” Cundiff said. “We struggled last year getting enough guys to play. I picked up a few more players, and we had a meeting at my house back in February.
“We decided to keep playing, but we went into the season just wanting to have fun, win or lose.”
This was the first championship game in league history that didn’t involve either the Dodgers or the Pirates (the Pirates folded after last season).
“We’re coming back next year, absolutely,” Cundiff said. “We fell just a little short, but now we know what we need to do.”
The Royals are also filled with new resolve.
“The five of us who’ve been with this team from the beginning, we were just a bunch of Hereford guys who wanted to keep playing baseball,” Patti said. “We’ll be back next year to defend our title.”
Chris Mirabile of the Cubs prepares to tag out Lloyd Fox of the Royals during the Over-40 League championship game on Sunday.
Brian Cimorelli of the Royals slides under the tag of Cubs catcher Doug Ray for what turned out to be the winning run in the Over-40 Baseball League title game.
Royals pitcher Bryan Wilhelm prepares to deliver a pitch during the Over-40 League championship game. With his team trailing 8-5, Wilhelm shut out the Cubs on two hits over the final five innings as the Royals rallied for an 11-8 win.
Members of the Royals drink Dale’s Ale from the championship trophy after beating the Cubs 11-8 for the Eastern Baltimore County Over-40 Baseball League title.