By ZACH BRAZILLER
It was fitting that Edwin Saez was on the mound and at the plate in the seminal moments of Long Island City’s slump-busting 8-4 victory over Lane last Thursday. For while his teammates may have struggled in getting off to an 0-3 start, Saez certainly hadn’t. He, for example, blasted three home runs in a season-opening loss to Queens A West leader John Adams.
His mighty stroke returned in arguably the biggest at bat of the Bulldogs’ young season. With LIC nursing a two-run lead — it was six at one juncture — in the sixth, Saez blasted a Mark Rivera belt-high fastball off the wall in left-center for a two-run double, his seventh and eighth RBIs of the year. He went back out to the mound moments later and went through the top of pesky Lane’s order 1-2-3, picking up his first save.
“We said you can’t look at 0-3, you have to look at the next 13 games,” LIC Coach Tom Lehman said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
With fellow standout senior David Velazquez, LIC’s ace, shortstop and No. 2 hitter, limited because of an injured back, Saez has seen his role increased. Lehman didn’t start him behind the plate — his natural position — because he wanted him available on the mound and didn’t feel comfortable asking him to do both. The preventative measure was a wise move as Saez was called in to work the sixth when LIC’s 6-0 lead was trimmed to 6-4. He put a few runners on, but bore down to fan Yoini Mejia and Giovanni Romero on riding fastballs.
“I do think this win can be a jump-start for us,” Saez said. “With this win, it’s gonna motivate us even more.”
Long Island City took a deep breath together when Saez retired Lane star Michael Gonzales on a pop-up to wrap up its first victory of the season. Lehman had — and still does have — high hopes for his senior-laden club, which went 12-4 a year ago and has been in the playoffs each of the last three seasons.
He saw them play Bronx dynamo James Monroe tough and beat powerhouse Grand Street Campus during the preseason. The two losses to Adams were disappointing, though easily explained with nine errors in the first loss and 14 walks in the second. Lehman had trouble sleeping after April 6’s 2-1 setback to Lane. It was even at 1 going into the seventh when he pulled starter Vinny Carlino, who was at just 90 pitches, for Josh Almonte. The Knights rallied for a walk-off win against Almonte.
“I think I slept two hours last night,” Lehman said. “I was second-guessing my decision the whole night. As a coach, I was feeling whatever move I make is the wrong one.”
Lehman went back to Almonte last Thursday and the hard-throwing junior repaid his coach’s faith, giving up just three earned runs in five innings pitched. Just as importantly, the Bulldogs strung hits together and took advantage of Lane mistakes. Leadoff man Scott Recinos got on base twice and scored twice, in his second game of the year, at designated hitter, Velazquez drove in a run, and Josh Levy had two of LIC’s 13 hits.
The Bulldogs’ 1-3 record obviously isn’t what Lehman expected after four games, but it beats the alternative.
“It was tough opening up 0-3, especially with our expectations,” the third-year coach said. “I feel this one is important to get us back on track. We have three home games next week. If we can go 2-1 or 3-0, we’re right back there in the mix of things.”