CLAYTON — As Cleveland Rams pitcher Maison Mullens was in the midst of his warm-up pitches for Saturday afternoon’s non-conference game with Garner, the song “Wild Thing” blared from the field’s speakers. As it turned out, both Mullens and Garner pitcher Saylon Kieft were anything but wild. The tandem entertained an impressive turnout with a scintillating pitching duel.
Both hurlers went the distance for their respective teams. Keift gave up just five hits and a run in a 3-1 Garner victory. Mullens struck out eight, gave up three hits and three unearned runs in the tough-luck loss.
Garner (2-1) broke a scoreless tie in the sixth with Nick Gallogly doubling to start the rally. Kieft followed with a bunt that the Rams threw away over first base, allowing Gallogly to score and Keift to reach second. Brighton Hudson followed with nearly an identical bunt which ended up down the foul line behind first base as well (after another wild throw), allowing Kieft to score.
“Maison did a tremendous job for us on the mound,” said Cleveland coach Jamie Lee. “He was fantastic. He knows he made a mistake and threw the ball away twice. But he kept us in the ball game.”
A successful sacrifice bunt followed, moving Hudson to third for Dakis Brown. Brown lifted a fly ball to center field, which the Rams’ Alan Stephenson appeared to catch, then drop on the exchange from glove to hand.
But the umpires ruled Stephenson never made the catch, and Hudson scored on the error.
“It was a judgment call,” said Garner coach Derik Goffena said. “Just like a runner being called out at first on a bang-bang play, and balls and strikes.”
Said Lee: “That just changed the dynamic of the game.”
The Rams had an opportunity to take an early lead, when Chase Jackson singled to start Cleveland’s half of the fourth. But the Rams couldn’t get a bunt down, tipping a bunt back to the Garner catcher Grayson Lee, who doubled up Jackson, who was a step away from second base.
Cleveland (0-2) threatened when Kieft began tiring in the sixth, loading the bases on consecutive one-out-singles by Stephenson, pinch hitter Avery Dean and Jackson. But Kieft got a strike out looking and Trevor Poole flew out to end the threat.
Kieft continued to tire in the seventh, issuing a walk to Chris Sterling along with a single by Nolan Bailey before striking out the next two batters.
Stephenson coaxed a walk from Kieft to load the bases. and a dropped third strike to Aaron Farmer brought in Cleveland’s lone run.
“I figured if Kieft was well enough,” Goffena said, “I was going to let him decide it himself. We were committed to sticking with him unless they scored the tying run or the game was over one way or the other.”