Editor’s note: This story ran on www.localsource.com – Union County Navigator on Saturday, March 31, 2012 and then on the lead sports page of the weekly newspaper Union County LocalSource on Thursday, April 5, 2012. This was the first year that the NJSIAA allowed the baseball season to begin prior to April 1. The same is true for this season, with the 2018 campaign – weather permitting of course – scheduled for many Opening Days across the state on Saturday, March 31. Six years ago I drove to Hudson County to cover baseball at Hoboken for the first time, anxious to see a pretty good pitcher’s duel between Linden junior right hander TJ Santiago and renowned Hoboken lefty Kenny Roder. Below is the report I filed:
HOBOKEN – With all the chatter about the new BBCOR bats in use this season, it still does a batter no good if he can’t hit the ball, no matter what kind of aluminum he’s using.
In a game at JFK Field that included 30 strikeouts in seven full innings it was – ironically – the team that struck out 17 times total coming away with a convincing 7-0 victory as visiting Linden prevailed over Hoboken in Saturday’s season-opener for both.
All Linden junior right hander TJ Santiago needed was the opposite field solo home run cleanup batter Ismail Abdul-Wahid blasted over the right field fence with two outs in the top of the fourth. The Tigers would go on to add three insurance runs in the sixth and then three more in the seventh.
Santiago, mixing his pitches well, tossed a four-hitter that included 13 strikeouts and just one walk. His 101-pitch performance included a streak of when he retired 10 straight. Santiago struck out at least one batter in all seven innings and at least two in five.
A three-year varsity starter on the mound, Santiago improved his career record to 7-2, including 3-0 as a freshman and 3-2 as a sophomore.
Hoboken, last year’s Hudson County champions and also the North 2, Group 1 finalist (falling in the bottom of the seventh at Roselle Park), had seven seniors among its nine starting players.
“I felt confident with everything, there was no doubt,” Santiago said.
Once he got a 1-0 lead, Santiago went out and struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the bottom of the fourth.
“I would say my splitter first and my fastball second worked the best,” Santiago said.
Senior catcher Bobby Clark, who was 2-for-4 with two singles, two RBI and two stolen bases, thought Santiago was in control from first pitch to last.
“He was just spot on,” Clark said. “He was on target and everything I threw down he threw. He pitched well and really threw a good game.”
The only inning Santiago allowed two baserunners was the second when David Montanez and Fabian Quinonez connected on back-to-back singles on two-strike counts with two outs. Santiago came back to retire No. 9 batter Connor Milne, striking him out swinging with a fastball on a 2-2 count.
“We knew they were a good team coming out from last year and that we had to come in playing our best,” Clark said. “We knew TJ would throw strikes and on his best game nobody can touch him, so we went in there with a lot of confidence.”
Hoboken starter Kenny Roder, also a three-year varsity pitcher, had Linden on its heels before Abdul-Wahid’s home run and even after. The crafty and explosive left hander, who struck out 16 in six and 2/3 innings, allowed just one single and had nine strikeouts in the bank before a 1-0 fastball he threw to Abdul-Wahid in the fourth got too much of the plate.
Abdul-Wahid, Linden’s senior center fielder, struck out in his first at-bat against Roder, looking at a 1-2 inside fastball leading off the second.
Abdul-Wahid went 1-for-2, also reaching base on an intentional walk by Roder and when he was hit in the helmet by a breaking ball thrown by reliever Roy DelaCruz.
“I knew I had to get up on him earlier because in my first at-bat I fouled off a couple of pitches because I was late,” Abdul-Wahid said.
Roder struck out the first two batters he faced in the fourth swinging before his first pitch to Abdul-Wahid was the first ball he threw in the frame.
“It was 1-0, I turned on it and it went deep,” Abdul-Wahid said.
The ball easily cleared the right field fence, estimated at 290 feet. The word Hoboken is spelled out across the fence in right with the ball going over the E.
“The hitter did a great job, he let it travel a little bit and went away with it real well,” first-year Hoboken head coach Jack Baker said. “We have a short right field and he hit it over it.”
For Abdul-Wahid it was the third home run he hit at JFK Field in three years. In a 9-6 Linden regular-season win on April 10, 2010, he slugged a grand slam against Hoboken’s other talented lefty, present senior Abe Groomes, who was pitching in relief that day. Abdul-Wahid also homered there in a scrimmage last year.
Groomes, according to Baker, is in line to pitch Hoboken’s next game, which is Tuesday at home vs. Memorial of West New York. He was in center field Saturday and batting third went 0-for-2 with a walk.
“At 1-0, with TJ on the mound, I was pretty confident that we were going to win the game,” Abdul-Wahid said.
Linden’s No. 9 batter, senior right fielder Alex Ciprian, had two big hits and scored important runs in the sixth and seventh when the Tigers put up three in both frames.
Ciprian also struck out his first time up against Roder to end the third.
“In my first at-bat I was kind of feeling it from the umpire, the plate, so I didn’t get a good read,” said Ciprian, who was 2-for-3, with two singles, two runs and one RBI.
His first hit was an infield single down the third base line that led off the sixth.
“My second at-bat I knew he was coming inside a lot and I wanted to turn on it,” Ciprian said. “It (the ball) didn’t go as far as I wanted, but it was a base hit.”
Three batters later, Clark drove in a run with a single, with another run scoring as the result of a throwing error. Then senior left fielder Dan Sobolewski, after striking out his first two times up, drove in a run on a fielder’s choice.
Ciprian and Clark produced run-scoring singles in the seventh, Clark on an infield hit. Clark was the last batter Roder faced.
Ciprian and Abdul-Wahid weighed in on the new BBCOR bats.
“Wherever you hit the ball, if you hit it on the sweet spot, it’s going to go,” Ciprian said. “I’ve seen a lot more pop ups this year because the bat is not as fat, but if you hit it on the sweet spot it’s still going to go.”
“I think it’s overrated,” Abdul-Wahid said. “I think these new bats are fine.
“If you hit the ball on the sweet spot, it’s going to go out no matter what. BBCOR or whatever, it makes no difference to me.”
Santiago’s performance was the kind that can propel him to elite status among Union County’s finest hurlers.
“It’s become to be what I expect of him,” fourth-year Linden head coach Pat Migliore said. “We’re a totally different team when he’s on the mound.
“We’re into the game. The kids know that no matter what goes on he’s going to give us a chance to win, so that makes us a better defensive team and a better offensive team as well when he pitches.”
Migliore saw immediately that Santiago might have stepped it up a notch once he got the lead.
“He goes out there and he knows that at 1-0 that might be all he gets, so he bears down and immediately throws a 1-2-3 inning,” Migliore said. “Nothing fazes him.
“He’s 85, 86, 87 (mph) and he has three (fastball, curveball, splitter) solid pitches that he can throw for strikes at any time. I would say he got to 86 in the middle innings today, he’s usually around there. Teams try to distract him, but you just can’t rattle the kid.”
Here, Migliore explains how his team won 7-0 while striking out a total of 17 times.
“He (Roder) was very good and we knew he was going to be very good,” Migliore said. “We faced him here two years ago in a regular season game and he came in and kind of shut us down a little bit.
“We knew he was going to pound the zone and we knew he was going to pound the ball away and also pound it in when we weren’t expecting it. He was tough.”
A walk to senior first baseman Nick Faria with one out started Linden’s rally in the seventh. Faria, a right handed batter who is a lefty glove at first base, produced Linden’s first hit, which was a single to center with one out in the third.
Faria went 1-for-2, with a single, a walk, a stolen base and a run.
“This group of kids has bought into what we’ve told them that we have to do as a team, like manufacturing runs,” Migliore said. “It’s early in the season where the pitchers are ahead of the hitters, so we need to manufacture runs and do things that we normally, in May and June, might not do.”
Linden senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Louie Rivera was 1-for-4, with a single, two runs and a stolen base.
Roder struck out Santiago four times, the first three swinging.
Baker, in his first year as a head coach, inherits a Redwings squad that – when their bats come alive – will win plenty of games behind lefties Roder and Groomes.
He was impressed with Roder’s first mound effort this season.
“Early in the game guys were not catching up with his fastball,” Baker said. “His curveball was really good and he threw a good changeup when he had to.”
Roder struck out the next four batters he faced after the home run he gave up to Abdul-Wahid, including the side in order in the fifth.
“I think (beginning in the sixth) he got a little tired and with it being cold out there that might have caught up with him,” Baker said. “His pitch count also rose. He beared down and did the best he could.”
Baker said that Roder is in line to start Thursday’s home game against North Bergen.
Baker was also impressed with the way Santiago threw.
“He did an outstanding job and really kept us off balance,” Baker said. “He did a good job of mixing up his pitches and he threw a lot of strikes.”
NOTES: Linden, thanks to the field turf at Hoboken, was one of three Union County teams that was scheduled to open Saturday (March 31) that played. Elizabeth defeated North Bergen 4-2 at home at Williams Field and Oratory Prep lost at St. Peter’s Prep 11-0.
The Linden-Hoboken game was played in a very slight, misty rain, with the temperature right around 45 degrees. For those who braved the cold elements to watch the contest in person, it lasted three minutes shy of two hours.
Linden’s next game and home-opener is scheduled against Elizabeth April 5 in Union County Conference-Watchung Division action at Memorial Field. Two days before Elizabeth is scheduled to host Governor Livingston in Watchung Division action.
2012 OPENING DAY BASEBALL AT HOBOKEN’S JFK FIELD – MARCH 31
Linden Tigers (1-0) 0 0 0 1 0 3 3 – 7 7 0
Hoboken Redwings (0-1) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 0 4 2
LINDEN STARTING PITCHER:
TJ Santiago, junior right hander, (1-0)
7 innings complete: 101 pitches (75 strikes, 26 balls)
0 runs, 4 hits (4 singles, the first 3 on 2-strike counts)
13 strikeouts (9 swinging, 4 looking), 1 walk (on a 3-2 count), 1 wild pitch
Santiago was perfect in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
He struck out the side in the fifth.
He had at least one strikeout in all seven innings and at least two in five.
He did not allow a baserunner to reach third.
He only went three balls on two batters.
He retired 21 of the 26 batters he faced.
He only allowed two baserunners in one inning.
On his only walk the home plate umpire mistakenly
gave the batter first base when the count was only 3-2.
Pitch count: 1-19. 2-20. 3-15. 4-10. 5-7. 6-14. 7-16. Total: 101.
HOBOKEN STARTING PITCHER:
Kenny Roder, senior left hander, (0-1)
6 and 2/3 innings: 109 pitches (85 strikes, 24 balls)
7 runs-4 earned, 7 hits (1 home run, 6 singles-2 of them infield hits)
16 strikeouts (10 swinging, 6 looking)
2 walks (the first intentional, the second on a 3-2 count), 1 wild pitch
Roder was perfect in the first, second and fifth innings.
He retired the first seven batters he faced.
He struck out the side in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
At one point nine consecutive outs were on strikeouts.
He had at least one strikeout in all seven of the innings he started.
He struck out at least two batters in the first six innings.
Pitch count: 1-15. 2-9. 3-18. 4-14. 5-13. 6-18. 7-22. Total: 109.
HOBOKEN RELIEF PITCHER:
Roy DelaCruz, senior right hander
1/3 inning: 8 pitches (4 strikes, 4 balls)
1 strikeout (swinging), 1 hit batter
Pitch count: 7-8. Total: 8.
SINGLES: Linden – Alex Ciprian (2), Bobby Clark (2),
Louie Rivera (1), Nick Faria (1).
Hoboken – David Montanez (1), Fabian Quinonez (1),
Isaiah Mateo (1), Dan Barron (1).
DOUBLES: Linden – None. Hoboken – None.
TRIPLES: Linden – None. Hoboken – None.
HOME RUNS: Linden – Ismail Abul-Wahid. Hoboken – None.