Life had already been good to Pete Tarpinian the past few days. He turned 17 and got his first car. Then he came to Diamond Nation on Tuesday and celebrated those good times by delivering in a very big way for his New Jersey Nationals teammates.
Tarpinian busted up a no-hit bid with a two-out, three-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning then closed out a 5-4 victory over the Staten Island Orioles Showcase Black with a scoreless inning that can only be described as a stroll across a tightrope.
The victory put the Nationals at 1-0 in pool play as the Orioles fell to 0-1 in the 17/18U Garden State Invitational Wood Bat. Both teams had a pair of games rained out on Monday evening, each falling victim to thunderstorms that raced through Hunterdon County.
“I wasn’t having a good game before all that happened,” said Tarpinian, a rising senior at the Pennington School. “I struck out my last time up and….” Tarpinian stopped himself perhaps not wanting to remember being picked off of first base in the first inning.
But no sport has more shifting tides than baseball and Tarpinian would ride one big wave into shore when it counted most.
The Staten Island Orioles had struck for two runs in the first inning and two more runs in the fifth to carry a 4-0 lead into what appeared to be the Nationals’ next to last at bat. Lefthanders Pat Gardner and Dylan Sagenick had also no-hit the Nationals to that point while striking out 10 and walking five. To say there was little sign of life in the Nationals’ offense would be an understatement.
Then Russell Kahney (photo at top of page) and Jonathan Strozyk drew a pair of walks to open the bottom of the sixth and all eyebrows suddenly lifted on the home side of Diamond Nation’s Field 1 diamond. Reliever Sagenick, however, appeared to right the ship when he struck out the Nos. 10 and 11 hitters in the Nationals’ order. The lineup flipped to the top but Sagenick lost the plate again, walking leadoff batter Kyle Miller to load the bases.
Alex Kuhtik and Ryan McNamara then drew walks, too, to force in the Nationals’ first two runs of the game, shaving the Orioles’ four-run lead in half. Staten Island went to its pen again with the Nationals’ clean-up hitter, Tarpinian coming to the plate. The third baseman took a first-pitch strike from Mike Santoriello, the third lefty the Nationals had faced in the game.
“He threw me a curveball on the first pitch,” said Tarpinian. “I’m thinking, just get a single. Put it in play.” Tarpinian then got a fastball down the middle on Santoriello’s second offering and jumped on it. “I thought I really hit it hard.” He did. Tarpinian’s shot flew over the head of center fielder Bryan Birkhead as all three runners raced home to give the Nationals a sudden 5-4 lead. The clutch double would be the Nationals’ lone hit in the game.
“Pete hits the ball well all the time,” said Nationals coach Mike Carter, the former Rutgers University center fielder. “He has a good approach at the plate. He competes.”
Tarpinian would have to continue to compete in the top of the seventh when his coach gave him the call to close out what suddenly became a possible victory. “I don’t really pitch that often,” said Tarpinian. That appeared to be the case when he walked leadoff batter Jack O’Keefe, who ratcheted up the pressure by stealing second base and reaching third on a wild pitch, still with no outs.
“I was just taking it one batter at a time at that point,” said Tarpinian.
But the righthander proved he not only had a huge heart on the mound, but an idea what he was doing, striking at the next two batters swinging at a curveball and a changeup, respectively. The next batter put a charge into a Tarpinian fastball but center fielder Kyle Miller moved a couple steps to his left and made the catch to end the game.
“Pete got those two big strikeouts,” said Carter. “He plays loose. He was able to step up for us. I feel good for him.”
NOTES: Gardner worked the first four innings for the Orioles, stifling the Nationals on no hits with seven strikeouts and four walks. Three of those walks came in the first inning but Miller was caught stealing third and Tarpinian was picked off to short-circuit the rally. … The three State Island pitchers combined for 13 strikeouts. … Nationals starter Alex Kuhtik had a high quality outing overshadowed by the heat being thrown by the Orioles staff. Kuhtik permitted four runs, three of which were earned, on five hits over six innings. He struck out four and walked two. … Birkhead made a nice running catch of a shot in the gap by McNamara in the first inning. … Vinny Torissi was flawless in four chances at shortstop for the Nationals. … The Nationals are stocked predominantly with players from Essex County high schools and their three coaches, Carter, William Paterson assistant coach Jason Tiseo and Jimmy Roselli are Bloomfield High graduates.