Going into Saturday’s 63rd Artists and Writers Softball Game, the opposing camps were in a dead heat in games played since 1988, with the Writers (who lead 25-18-1 in the modern era) and Artists each having won 11, with one tie.
No longer, then, can the Artists’ manager, Leif Hope, get away with his customary poor-mouthing: The truth is the Artists like to win too, and do, though perhaps, as Hope likes to say, they’re more fun, and thus a tad more insouciant when it comes to winning.
As constant readers know, the annual agons of 2009 and 2010 lived up to the name — the Artists hanging a 15-14 loss on the Writers in 10 innings last year, and the Scriveners writing finis to the Paletteers’ dreams by a score of 12-11 in 10 frames two years ago.
This time, although the Writers jumped on the Artists early, taking an 8-0 lead before Hope’s charges began to come back in the top of the third, it was anyone’s ballgame going down the stretch after Eddie McCarthy in the top of the eighth authored a three-run shot (his second home run and fifth run batted in of the afternoon) that brought the Artists to within 11-10.
Ken Auletta, the Writers’ player-manager, looked pained as the ball left McCarthy’s bat, but lived to have the last laugh as the Writers came back with six runs of their own in the bottom half of the eighth, effectively breaking the 23-year tie.
The Artists tacked on two runs with two out in their last at-bat, but when, with the score 17-12, a relay from the outfield to Brett Shevack at third caught Ed Hollander sliding in, the Writers, led by Auletta and Mike Lupica, who despite a calf muscle tear sustained in the first inning had gone 3-for-4, sounded their barbaric yawps over the roof of the village’s comfort station.
The Game’s most valuable player was the Writers’ sure-handed and heavy-hitting shortstop, David Baer, The Star’s summer intern of 2009 and a recent Syracuse grad, who works now as a segment coordinator with CBS-TV’s “Rachael Ray Show.”
The 22-year-old not only anchored the Writers’ defense with five putouts and one assist, but also went 3-for-3 at the plate with a two-out, two-run home run in the sixth, a ground rule double in the fourth, and a scorching single in the first.
Had there been a True Grit prize, Lupica, who played on after having his right calf taped between the first and second innings, would have got it.
“The doc said I’d probably be better in a week, but I said I just wanted to play until 4 o’clock,” the feisty sports columnist and young-adult novelist said afterward, before resorting to his “breakfast of champions,” Advil.
“You have to consider this a moral victory,” said Hollander, on the Artists’ behalf. “First, they jumped out to that big lead, they had a New York Yankee [Jim Leyritz, a hero of the Yankees’ 1996 World Series win] in their lineup, and a college all-American.”
When asked about this last allegation, Baer said he had played club baseball at Syracuse. Which is not bad, considering.
Baer’s two-run homer treated the Writers to an 11-5 lead in the bottom of the sixth, but the Artists, wonderful to tell, almost drew even in the top of the eighth.
Billy Strong, who ran the bases in colorful fashion that afternoon, led the inning off with a single and advanced to second — to Lupica’s dismay — following Geoff Prisco’s flyout to short-center. Scott Kennedy, Greg Bello, and Peter Cestaro then singled in succession. Bello and Cestaro’s base hits drove in runs. With Bello on third and Cestaro at second, Eric Ernst topped one of Benito Vila’s deliveries, which resulted in Bello’s being tagged out by Dennis McEneaney at home, after which McCarthy’s three-run blast almost rewrote the script.
A sacrifice fly by Leyritz, a bloop run-scoring single by Jay DiPietro (which proved to be the game-winner), a two-run ground rule double by Mike Pellman, and an r.b.i. single by Vila effectively put the win in the books for the Writers in the bottom of the eighth.
In the aftermath, rather than paint over the loss, Hope, the Game’s impresario, was more inclined to talk about the impressive turnout of 40 choristers from local churches and synagogues — “we even had one Muslim” — who had before the Game began, and almost on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, sung the national anthem.