For all the statistical advancements and significant strides made in understanding the world of baseball in these times of "Moneyball," a handful of truths from the very first days of the dead-ball era have remained. Chief among them is the idea that strong pitching must be central to any team's success, no matter the level, no matter the time period.
So considering that this summer, the Darien-New Canaan Junior Legion squad allowed the second-lowest opponent run total in its league, odds would favor the team's chance of making the postseason. And yet, this is where another, long-held truth comes into play:
Luck, both good and astonishingly terrible, is an inevitable part of the game.
Or even 10 games. For instance, the last 10 games of the Darien-New Canaan season, nine of which resulted in one-run losses, a simply unheard of figure.
Of course, flip the coin, and you'll have instead nearly a dozen contests when the Darien-New Canaan staff held opponents to a combined 27 runs. And this theme, of truly outstanding mound work, held true for the club from start to finish, luck entirely aside.
Last Saturday, four Darien-New Canaan starters finished their respective 2014 campaigns with an ERA below 3.00, while another, Jack Havard, recorded four complete games. Collectively, these pitchers pinned opposing lineups to 87 runs over 27 games, good for an average of 3.2 runs per contest. Furthermore, the staff kept Darien-New Canaan to within five runs of every ballgame with the exception of one, when a position player was forced to start on the rubber.
"I can't think of game where I was like `Wow, that kid did not perform to where we needed him to perform,'" Darien-New Canaan coach Michael Patrona said. "The kids have been great. Walks have been way down for us ... and sometimes when they throw their curveball or a changeup over for a strike, they can really be dominant."
Havard, a member of the New Canaan High School Class of 2017, posted a 3.60 ERA during a team-high 40 innings pitched. The rising sophomore gained strength as the season wore on, putting forth his best start in a 3-1 loss at first-place Trumbull Friday. Havard allowed only one ball to leave the infield all game, as runners only managed to score on defensive miscues and small ball tactics.
"He is what I'd call a bulldog. He just fights ... and works," Patrona said. "He throws hard, and he has a good changeup and good curve. He's constantly fighting, and he hits his spots."
Assistant coach Mike Alfieri agreed, detailing how the young hurler often pleaded to finish games even with his pitch count at 90 or higher through six innings.
"He wants to win and he wants to compete," Alfieri said.
One day following Havard's gem at Trumbull, fellow starter Charlie Sealy tossed another complete game where he scattered five hits and allowed zero walks in the season finale. Sealy's year-ending performance polished off a sparkling 1.54 ERA and a 1.11 walks and hits per innings pitched average (WHIP) earned over 35 innings from the hill.
However, his best performance came in a winning effort at Ridgefield, when the tall right-hander went six innings, firing two different curveballs in for strikes along with his regular, crisp fastball. Sealy, a student at Brunswick School who made the team after an individual tryout, kept hitters off-balance by dropping breaking balls in during hitters' counts.
"I think my control really came together this year," Sealy said. "I think we're going to come back next year even better."
Matthew Drake then entered in the seventh and struck out three Ridgefield batters to pick up the save. Drake, who also consistently induced groundball outs as a starter, totaled 27 innings on the mound and a 2-3 record with a 2.74 ERA. In retrospect, his success was a pleasant surprise for the Darien-New Canaan coaches, who were impressed with his early feel for pitching.
"He threw harder than we thought he threw," Patrona said. "And he was able to change speeds, which was great. He can also throw a curveball for a strike."
When he wasn't working behind the plate, Liam Gallagher provided a steady presence from the rubber to the tune of a 2-0 record and 14 strikeouts over 18 innings. Similarly, Tyler Grant often trotted in from his centerfield position to record two strikeouts for every one walk and an excellent 1.00 WHIP. Nick Walter rounded out the rotation, hurling 28 full innings for a 2-3 mark and 1.61 ERA
Even the occasional spot-starter and position player turned pitcher provided a boost for Darien-New Canaan. Jack Farren and Thomas Williams both averaged better than one strikeout per inning, while Jack O'Neill produced a 1.93 ERA from his only appearance. Chris Drake, brother of Matt, registered a 1.00 WHIP in five innings of work.
"Our pitching all year has been great for us," Patrona said. "And our fielding has been outstanding."
With 2014 in the books, the attention now turns to which members of the staff can and will return next summer. Currently, the Darien-New Canaan Senior Legion squad is projected to bring back a number of key starters, meaning the opportunity to move up a level will be very small.
"I can't imagine how good they're going to be next year," Alfieri said. "If they play at this level again, they'll be absolutely dominant."
And lest Lady Luck intends to rear an ugly head once more, that spells equally ugly news for the rest of local Junior Legion baseball in 2015.