MERIDEN — Even the best teams have those nights.
Chances squandered. Calls gone bad. Tempers frayed. A loss so out of character it just needs to be flushed the minute it ends.
Friday was one of those nights for the Record-Journal Expos.
The Meriden squad came in atop the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League standings, but simply didn’t have it in falling 8-2 to Ulbrich Steel at Ceppa Field.
An upset to be sure. Ulbrich was 2-4 and the Expos stood at 5-1 with a sixth win just about in the bag (they led Thursday’s game against Rainbow Graphics 6-1 before it was suspended by weather in the fourth inning).
Yet credit the men of Steel. They looked sharp Friday, delivering timely plays at the plate and in the field to back winning pitcher Nick Hock, who settled down after a turbulent start.
Former Sheehan/ECSU standout Derek Allen homered for Ulbrich and delivered another run with a sacrifice fly. Tyler Popp and Josh Taylor connected for two-run singles.
The key stretch came in the bottom of the third and it was controversial one. With the score knotted 2-2 and two Ulbrich runners aboard with two outs, Chris Anselmo went opposite field against R-J starter Cam Fahey and poked a ball past third base.
Expos third baseman Jason Sullivan immediately called it foul. So did Expos catcher Mike Gulino.
Problem is, the umpire calling balls and strikes, stationed behind the mound as Greater Hartford umpires are in this summer of socially distanced baseball, called it fair.
That brought in the go-ahead run for Ulbrich.
In a lather, the Expos needed to respond, and the top of the fourth started with promise. Will Kszywanos banged a single up the middle and Kyle Hartenstein drew a walk. Two men were on with nobody out.
That’s when Ulbrich’s middle infield of shortstop Sam DeMaio and second baseman Andre Marchessault spun a 6-4-3 double play, just like they had to hold the Expos to one run in the first inning. This one kept the Expos scoreless in the fourth.
Ulbrich stretched its lead to 5-2 in the bottom half. In the top of the fifth, the R-J left the bases loaded for the second time.
It was one of those nights.
Though it did start well. Getting first licks as the visiting team — Ulbrich also plays home games at Ceppa — the Expos got a leadoff single from Sebby Grignano, an infield single from Hector Gonzalez and a RBI single up the middle from Jason Sullivan.
Before there was an out, a run was on the board.
DeMaio and Marchessault spun their double play to limit the damage. The Expos were back at in the second, capitalizing on three walks, a wild pitch and a hit batsman by Hock to push their lead to 2-0, yet left the bases loaded.
An inning later, the lead was gone.
It was the end of a long week for the Expos, who played four games in six days, including sweeping two from the perennial league champion Vernon Orioles.
At 5-2, the Expos are percentage points behind the front-running South Windsor Phillies (4-1). The two teams meet twice next week — Tuesday at Nevers Park in South Windsor at 6, then Friday at Ceppa at 7.
Those games, combined with the August 3 finales at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, will go a long way in settling the regular season crown and the seedings for the postseason tournament that follows.