BY COURTNEY A. ERICKSON
Desi Relaford delivered the perfect gift Saturday at Doubleday Field.Relaford’s two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning capped a 5-4 walkoff victory for the Knucksies, who edged the Wizards in front of 5,116 fans at the fourth annual Hall of Fame Classic.
“Nobody wants a tie for Father’s Day,” said 11-year major-league veteran Relaford, who won the Bob Feller Player of the Game Award after going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run. “I didn’t want to give all the fathers a tie, so I had to get a hit.”
Decked out in a blazing-red Phillies jersey he spent nearly half of his career with Philadelphia (1996-2000) Relaford stepped up to the plate for his final at-bat with the bases loaded, none out and the Knucksies trailing, 4-3.
Former New York Yankees pitcher Brian Fisher started the seventh inning with a two-run cushion but failed to get an out for the Wizards, who fell, 8-6, to the Knucksies in the 2011 Classic.
Oreste Marrero led off with a homer for the Knucksies, who received consecutive singles from Ryan Hurtado, Russ Ortiz and CJ Nitkowski to load the bases for Relaford.
Wizards team captain Ozzie Smith a standout shortstop known as the Wizard of Oz during his Hall of Fame career then replaced Fisher with 14-year major-league outfielder Dante Bichette.
“Everybody wants to be up, bottom of the seventh, bases loaded with a chance to win the game,” said switch-hitter Relaford, who pulled a single into right field to score Hurtado and Ortiz for the final margin. “It was awesome. I was lucky. I hit it in the right hole.”
Relaford said he was happy to see Bichette on the mound.
“He’s throwing harder than everybody out there today, which is better,” Relaford said of Bichette, the Wizards clean-up batter who started at first base Saturday. “For me, it’s easier that I don’t have to think. When it’s hard, I can just swing and hit it.”
Bichette made it look easy in the first inning, driving a pitch from Knucksies captain Phil Niekro aka Knucksie for his Hall of Fame-worthy knuckleball off the high, black fence in left field for an RBI single. Smith, who led off with a single up the middle, scored on the play for a 1-0 lead.
Catcher Ben Davis opened the second with a single off Niekro, who later gave up an RBI single to center by Jack Lazorko as the Knucksies fell behind, 2-0.
Wizards starter Bert Blyleven, who was inducted into the Hall last July, struggled in the second inning, though. Ortiz, Relaford and Windsor baseball coach Joel Bennett singled before former Yankees pitcher Dennis Rasmussen tied the score with a hard grounder to right field for a two-run single.
Blyleven made it through three innings, allowing six hits and two runs. He also hustled down the first-base line to snag a throw from second baseman Haney, beating Marrero to the bag to end the second inning.
“I wasn’t really covering (first base),” Blyleven said. “I was covering the line. I knew who the runner was (Marrero), and he was about as fast as me. First base is a long way to run. But, you know, we pitchers are the best athletes in the world.”
RBI singles by Lazorko in the fifth and Karl Seiter in the sixth gave the Wizards a 4-2 lead before Rasmussen gave up two hits in a scoreless seventh for the Knucksies.
Rasmussen ended up earning the pitching victory, though, as Relaford came through in the last of the seventh.
BY COURTNEY A. ERICKSON
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