The baseball gods toyed with the Sharks’ hearts this past week, as they miraculously launched themselves into playoff contention, and then — just as quickly — out of it.
On Thursday, the Sharks were down 7-4 to the North Shore Navigators in the bottom of the eighth, five outs away from playoff elimination. A do-or-die battle for both teams, the Navigators were throwing their best arms at the Sharks, who started the frame with a swinging strikeout.
But then the Sharks proceeded to get on base 11 straight times, forcing three pitching changes, and scoring nine. And after a Demitri Diamant closeout inning, the Sharks had survived another day.
Then on Friday, the Vineyard offense picked up where it left off, dropping a total of 11 runs on the No. 3 Mystic Schooners before the second inning had even ended. It was smooth sailing for the Sharks’ bullpen as well, who only needed two pitchers to finish Mystic off in the 15-4 win.
Meanwhile, everyone else in the Wild Card race was on a losing streak. The Ocean State Waves had lost two in a row, the Navigators five, and the Upper Valley Nighthawks six of their last seven.
Riding a series of fortunate events, the Sharks had gone from from the brink of elimination to winning the race for the final Wild Card spot in only two days.
But on Saturday, the Vineyard’s date with destiny reached its climax, and final chapter. The Sharks had a doubleheader at home against the Waves, meaning they could eliminate the team closest to them with only one win.
And at roughly 6:30, the Sharks were poised to celebrate early. Up 6-5 with Diamant on the mound, the Sharks were one strike away from sending the Waves packing. But fate would have it otherwise.
After a single and a walk, the Waves had men on first and second. Playing desperation ball, the Waves began pinch-hitting, and plated their pinch-runner on a single to tie it. Flustered, the Sharks lost control, misplaying a fly ball to right field, and the Waves walked it off in the Sharks’ home stadium.
Queue game two.
Both teams came out swinging. When the Waves scored three in the top of the first, the Sharks responded with two of their own; when the Waves scored three more in the second, the Sharks tied it up with four.
But as a storm rolled in, and lightning sparkled the distant sky, the bats went quiet. And four innings later, the roles were reversed. The Sharks were the ones facing elimination, down to their last few outs and trailing 9 – 7. With the rain coming down, Sharks manager Billy Uberti beseeched the umpiring crew to give the Sharks one last chance to come back; if they could do it Thursday, they could do it again.
The Waves, and the gods, however, were done playing games, and the Sharks went one-two-three.
“It was tough not to make the playoffs with that group,” first-year Sharks manager Uberti said after the game. “A decision here, a decision there, things could have been different… We had a team that competed, and a great lineup. I already miss it. It was a blast.”