Maple Leafs force Game 5 with 9-3 win

By Rob Vona

The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Welland Jackfish on Wednesday night at Dominico Field by a score of 9-3, forcing a Game 5 winner-take-all game on Thursday night in Welland in the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) semifinals.

Wilgenis Alvarado took to the mound for the second time this series and fourth time in the playoffs for the Maple Leafs. 

Alvarado put up an “exceptional” outing according to Maple Leafs first baseman Jordan Castaldo, going all nine innings allowing just three runs while striking out nine batters, improving to a 2-1 record in the playoffs.

“We know we’re going to be in for a battle tomorrow, [the] job’s not done but I’m really happy with the way the guys performed today with their backs against the wall,” said Castaldo about his team's Game 4 performance.

The Maple Leafs got the scoring started in the bottom half of the second inning with a booming double off the bat of right-fielder Ryan Dos Santos that hit the top of the centre-field wall that scored two runs.

The home team struck again one inning later as third baseman John Solazzo blasted his second home run of the series over the centre-field fence, doubling the Maple Leafs lead to four. 

Alvarado was on point, facing the minimum in the third and fourth inning and quickly retiring the first two batters he faced in the fifth inning before getting into some trouble. 

With two outs in the top of the fifth inning, the Jackfish rallied, stringing together back-to-back singles courtesy of second baseman Tyler Dupuis and centre-fielder Gio Morello, followed up by a walk from left-fielder Hogan Brown to load the bases. 

Alvarado induced a ground ball to the sure-handed shortstop Jose Vinicio - who finished with nine infield assists. Vinicio fielded the ball swiftly and flipped ot to second base to record the force out and get out of the inning.

“He [Alvarado] really carried us today,” said Castaldo. “That’s the kind of pitching performance we needed tonight.”

The Jackfish got on the board in the top of the sixth inning, scoring three runs on two home runs. A solo shot from first baseman Steve Moretto and a two-run blast from James Smibert made it a 4-3 game. 

Moretto has now hit a home run in the last three games of the series, while Smibert has hit a home run in back-to-back games at Dominico Field. 

The Maple Leafs were quick to respond as they put up three runs of their own in the bottom half of the sixth inning. A single into right-field from Vinicio scored two runs to make it 6-3, he would later score off of a base hit from DH Garrett Takamatsu to round off the three run inning. 

Vinicio would go on to finish with a game-high four RBI. 

After Jackfish starter Ben Abram got the first out of the three-run sixth inning, his day was done as he surrendered six runs on eight hits as he was charged for his first loss of the 2023 playoffs, reliever Chris Boatto recorded the final two outs of the sixth inning.

With Alvarado dealing, the Jackfish turned to Brandon Underhill to finish off the game. 

Underhill gave up a single to Vinicio in the seventh inning that cashed in two more runs of insurance for the Maple Leafs, making it a 9-3 game.

Alvarado continued to get the best of Jackfish hitters as he ended his day with a whopping 140 pitches and one big celebration coming off the mound in the ninth inning as he and the Maple Leafs forced a Game 5.

“Hopefully we can pick up tomorrow right where we left off tonight,” said Castaldo. “[I have] a ton of belief in the group, we’ve been through it all.” 

The series-deciding game goes Thursday night at Welland Stadium, first pitch is set for 7:25 p.m..

The post game report is brought to you by Woodbine Racetrack, official sponsor of Maple Leafs baseball.