Adam Shinder/Recorder staff Amsterdam Mohawks pitcher Taylor Blatch warms up prior to the bottom of the first inning of Game 2 of the PGCBL Championship Series Thursday at Colburn Park in Newark.
By ADAM SHINDER
NEWARK -- Taylor Blatch wasn't going to walk off the mound at Colburn Park until the job was done. When he finally did walk away, it was after he'd extricated himself from the mass of Amsterdam Mohawks teammates that had piled on top of him in celebration.
Blatch capped off the Amsterdam Mohawks' historic season with an epic performance in Tuesday's 12-1, Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League championship-clinching win over the Newark Pilots. It took him 131 pitches to do so, but Blatch went the distance, scattering six hits and striking out nine to finish the year in style.
"He was phenomenal," Mohawks coach Keith Griffin said. "His fastball was good, his breaking ball was good. He had a great changeup -- didn't throw a lot of them, but it was a great changeup. Just amazing, how good he was tonight."
The funny thing was, Blatch was never supposed to go wire-to-wire -- or come that close to it. Coming in on 10 days rest after throwing a seven-inning no-hitter July 27 against the Utica Brewers in his final start of the regular season, Blatch got the start Thursday night for Game 2, but Griffin intended to use Connor Johnstone for at least a couple innings out of the bullpen.
Johnstone warmed up on a few occasions and was ready to come into the game, but Blatch made sure he wasn't needed.
"At the start it was, 'You might just go five, maybe we can get you through seven,' but after the seventh inning, Coach (Griffin) came up to me and asked me what I wanted to do," Blatch said. "As a competitor, I wanted to stay in. In the last inning, he asked me one more time ... I said, 'Absolutely, I can finish this for you.'"
What made Blatch's complete game even more surprising was that he barely made it out of the first inning. Gifted a 2-0 lead out of the gate, Blatch struggled through 25 pitches in the first inning as the Pilots pulled back a run on an Austin Clock sacrifice fly, but when he retired Derek Reed on a lazy fly ball to center to end the inning with the bases loaded, the righthander from Florida State University knew he'd settled in.
"They were hitting everything. You could see it through my reactions," Blatch said. "I was like, 'Wow, they're hitting the ball.' It took a few adjustments to figure out what the hitters were doing, and I was able to get out of it."
To see Blatch settle into that kind of rhythm was no surprise to his teammates. He's done it all summer -- even in his no-hitter.
"That's what happened when he threw the no-hitter. He had trouble the first couple innings, but when he gets in a groove, he gets in a groove," second baseman Josh Gardiner said. "It's unreal."
Nobody had a better seat for Blatch's virtuoso performance than Mohawks catcher Blake Logan, who marveled at the ease in which the righthander commanded his electric stuff.
"It was kind of like playing a video game," Logan said. "You'd call a pitch and set up, and he'd throw it right there."
Blatch's effort was Amsterdam's first nine-inning complete game since Mark Leiter Jr.'s epic 14-strikeout performance against the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs in the 2012 playoffs. Griffin also compared it favorably to Zack Brown's brilliant 5 2/3 innings of no-hit relief in Wednesday's 9-3 Game 1 win at Shuttleworth Park.
"That first inning, he was a little tight, but I thought his stuff was phenomenal," Griffin said. "Incredible tonight. It was almost Zack Brown's stuff from last night. Just awesome."
And while Griffin wanted to lift Blatch from the game as his pitch count rose, he let his pitcher state his case.
"He never was in bad shape. After the first inning, he never labored," Griffin said. "It was kind of easy pitching. I decided to just leave him in there. I told him one time, 'You walk a guy, I'm gonna take you out.' When he did, I went out and talked to him in the ninth and I said, 'You need to go,' but he said, 'Give me one more.'"
Blatch blew away the final two hitters he faced with his eighth and ninth strikeouts of the night, more than justifying Griffin's faith.
The job was done, and Blatch was more than happy to finally make his exit -- he just had to get about two dozen teammates off him first.
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