HARTFORD — The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League has a history of postseason upsets. Unfortunately for the Record-Journal Expos, the first one of 2019 playoffs happened Tuesday night.
For the second straight year, Rainbow Graphics knocked off the GHTBL’s top seed, turning the trick this year 8-1 over the Expos. A year ago, Rainbow Graphics beat the No. 1 seed Vernon Orioles in the postseason en route to the championship series — where it lost twice to eventual champion Vernon.
While the regular-season champion Expos’ season isn’t over, they no longer have any room for error in the double-elimination tournament at Trinity College. The Expos (19-6) will be back in action Wednesday night at 8 p.m. against Ulbrich Steel, who lost to the East Hartford Jets, 3-2, on Tuesday night.
“Playoffs are unpredictable,” Expos player-coach Charlie Hesseltine said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way, sometimes it does.”
“Today we showed up flat and didn’t hit the ball,” Hesseltine added. “But I’m not surprised how well (Rainbow Graphics played). Everyone is going to play their best during the playoffs.”
The Expos collected just six hits and didn’t score until the sixth inning. By then, Rainbow Graphics had led 5-0.
R-J swept Rainbow Graphics (7-18) during the regular season, winning the teams’ three encounters 4-3, 5-0 and 4-1. But the Expos never faced Rainbow starting pitcher Mark DiTomasso, who certainly made a difference Tuesday night.
DiTomasso, 29, kept the Expos in check all night. Coming back from a quad injury suffered last season, DiTomasso was making only his second start on the mound this season. But “in a zone” all night, DiTomasso was never in serious trouble.
DiTomasso nearly matched his season total by going six innings, allowing six hits and striking out five Expos. DiTomasso pitched five innings two weeks ago in his only other start of the season and came into the game with just 6 innings pitched during the regular season.
“It was a long rehab, but I got back on the mound a little bit earlier in the year and felt pretty good,” DiTomasso said. “Tonight, I just pounded the zone. Once I’m on the mound, I’ve pitched all my life, so I know what to do.”
“I’ve played with Mark since I was 12 years old and I expected nothing less,” Graphics player-coach Tyler Repoli said. “He one guy we always go to and we have the most confidence in.
“The plan was to pitch Mark all along. We got him a few innings and he was getting stronger. Tonight went just as we anticipated.”
Rainbow struck for an unearned run in the first inning and never trailed.
“We just have to come out and play baseball every day. We can’t lose now,” Expos shortstop Hector Gonzalez said. “We have to win tomorrow and get on the sticks.”
DiTomasso and the 34-year-old Hesseltine were matched in a pitchers’ duel through four innings. After allowing a double in the first that plated the Graphics’ unearned run, Hesseltine retired 10 straight Rainbow batters.
Hesseltine worked 1-2-3 innings in the second, third and fourth innings. Hesseltine’s streak ended with back-to-back singles in the fifth. And after getting two outs, he allowed the Graphics to build a 3-0 lead on a pair of two-out singles by Graphics leadoff hitter Eric Brainard and Evan Chamberlain.
Rainbow’s lead grew to 5-0 before the Expos finally scored in the bottom of the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Will Kszywanos that scored Jason Sullivan. The Expos, however, left the bases loaded when Hesseltine missed a 3-2 high fastball out of the zone.
“I wasn’t expecting (DiTomasso) to pitch because he hasn’t all year,” Hesseltine said. “But we’ve seen him in years past and he has good stuff. He threw well tonight.”
Graphics scored three more times in the seventh for the final score.
R-J went down in order in the seventh, as Repoli pitched a perfect seventh inning.
Down 1-0 in the fourth, the Expos threatened but came up empty. A.J. Hendrickson (2-for-3) flared a single to right field and Sebby Grignano put runners on first and second with another sharp single.
But Matt Fusco struck out on a high changeup to end the inning.
Rainbow struck first with an unearned run in the first inning. Grignano, the Expos second baseman, misplayed a ground ball ahead of a run-scoring double into the right-field corner by Repoli that gave Rainbow a 1-0 lead.