BEVERLY — The Gallant Tournament title hopes of Lynn were riding on the right arm of Shea Palmer as he took over for starter Yordy Contreras in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s final. Lynn, up by a run, needed to hold off Peabody in order to play another day and have a shot at another championship.
It was a huge spot for Palmer. He’s not the team’s ace; that’s Contreras, who was excellent through six innings Tuesday. Of course, Lynn manager Jeff Earp would have preferred to stick with his ace; after all, Contreras had racked up 15 strikeouts over six innings and despite a rocky fifth, was still feeling good and ready to go.
Contreras is no stranger to coming on in a big spot; on Monday night, it was his turn to keep Lynn’s tournament run alive, as he came on in the eighth inning and struck out two of the three Danvers batters he faced to seal the 3-2 win and tournament final berth.
While the Gallant Tournament has no pitch count, there are innings limits. And that one inning Monday meant that Contreras could only go six innings Tuesday. The tournament rules state that a pitcher must have a day of rest after pitching seven innings.
So Contreras got his team through the first six innings. He was spectacular, especially through the first five frames.
“My curveball was working, and my fastball, I was putting it kind of where I wanted to put it,” Contreras said. “I felt like I was unhittable, to be honest.”
“(He was) tremendous. He had his stuff and he was in a real groove,” the manager said. “He came back on short rest after (starting on) Friday night. He has a rubber arm and he’s just a great, focused kid.”
Contreras’ only trouble came in the fifth, when Peabody plated two to tie the game.
“He lost it a little bit and he had a hard time getting it back,” Earp said. “I think what he was doing at the plate was affecting him on the mound. He was mad about striking out, and it carried over.”
Lynn scratched across a run in the sixth to take a 3-2 lead, and Contreras bounced back with a scoreless inning in the bottom half. After Lynn’s chance for more in the seventh ended in a rundown and no insurance runs, it was Palmer’s time to shine.
“I was very, very nervous,” Palmer said.
Palmer loaded the bases with one out after two walks and a fielder’s choice. Earp went to the mound in the midst of the rally to try and calm his reliever down.
“I went out there and told him to relax and tried to make him smile,” Earp said. “They’re kids, we forget. He didn’t relax and got in a huge jam. But then you kind of saw it, like in his shoulders, he said ‘the hell with this, I’m going to do it,’ and he did it.”
He did, indeed. Palmer struck out the next hitter and then snagged a bouncing grounder, tossing it to the plate for the final out.
“Shea has come a long way as a pitcher through practice, and he hasn’t been in that setting before like that, but he’s a tough kid and he’s been incredible during this tournament,” Earp said. (He’s) kind of like the de facto captain. I was so proud of him, he got tough and he did it. Great kid, great competitor, (the team) looks up to him.”
“There was a lot of relief (after the final out) because I thought I was going to choke really hard and lose the game for my team, but I didn’t, so that’s a plus,” Palmer said with a big smile after the game.
Now Lynn will have a chance to vie for its second-straight Gallant title, but it won’t be an easy road. Peabody, made up of the two teams that battled for the District 16 championship earlier this summer, will have its ace on the mound, while Contreras will have to watch from his secondary position in the infield. But both Palmer and Contreras agreed the win Tuesday night gave them some more confidence.
“That was supposed to be an unbeatable team,” Palmer said, “and we beat them.”