Byrd's HR gives Ramstein baseball title
Stars and Stripes May 27, 2008
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Gavon Byrd hammered the first pitch of the final inning over the center-field fence Mon-day to give the Ramstein Rockets a 7-6 victory over the Stuttgart Panthers in the championship game of the three-day Biggs European Baseball Championship.
“It was a fast ball right down the middle of the plate about waist high,” Byrd said of the delivery from Stuttgart ace Justin Phelps that he turned into the winning shot in the series, which serves as the European high school baseball championship. “I felt it coming and got aggressive.”
Byrd’s blow capped the Rockets’ game-long emergence from a 6-1 hole they dug for themselves in the first two innings.
Ramstein began by running itself out of a possible big first inning. With two on and just one out, Patch catcher Ryan Brady threw out John Collett at third on the front end of a double steal. Panthers starter Quinton Austin then picked off Scott Sublousky, the back end of the double steal, at second base.
Things got worse for Ramstein in the bottom of the first. Rockets starter Dan Garland fanned lead-off hitter Phelps for the first of his seven strikeouts on the day, but Phelps reached first base safely when the ball got by Ramstein’s catcher. Two errors, two singles and a sacrifice fl y later, the Panthers were up 4-0.
Ramstein got a run back in the top of the second, but Stuttgart answered with two more runs on two hits, a wild pitch and an error. Those runs, however, were the last Garland surrendered.
“There was never any doubt in my mind that we’d win this game,” Garland said after going the seven-inning distance. “I knew we were a better team than they were.”
Garland took charge of holding the Panthers, scattering just four hits the rest of the way and retiring the side in order in the bottom of the seventh. He walked none.
“My curve ball was really working,” Garland said. “I don’t think they had a good swing on it all day.”
Ramstein rallied with two runs each in the third and fourth against the tiring Austin and tied it in the fifth against Phelps, who came on in relief. Byrd, the first Ramstein batter to face Phelps on Monday, struck out, but reached first when the ball eluded the Panthers’ catcher. Byrd then stole second, was balked to third and scored on a ringing double to left by Derek Sanchez.
Meanwhile, a defense that had looked so shaky at the beginning of the game began to jell. “We just got in little huddles in the dugout and told each other we had to calm down,” Byrd said. “We said we had to get back to playing Ramstein baseball.”
Epitomizing the Ramstein style was center fielder Andre Porter-field. Porterfield, whose walk-off home run in Sunday’s semifinal propelled the Rockets into the final, made a run-saving, diving catch of a sinking liner in the fifth to preserve Ramstein’s hard-earned 6-6 tie and set the stage for Byrd’s blast.
Twelve teams began this three-day event, which is run by Morale, Welfare and Recreation and not by the school system. By agreement with DODDS-Europe, high school baseball players who meet the system’s participation and academic guidelines are awarded athletic letters by their schools.