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Max Pentecost steals show in Fisher Cats home opener

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Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. weren’t bad, either.

Bo Bichette (left) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (right) wait between batters at the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ home opener on Friday night in Manchester.
Photo by author.

For all the names at the top of the lineup — Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel and Cavan Biggio — it was Max Pentecost who stood out in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ home opener 8-5 loss to the Hartford Yard Goats on Friday night. Pentecost hit a home run in the bottom of the second inning, the first run that the Fisher Cats scored.

The largely-forgotten catcher is starting to make waves in the Toronto Blue Jays organization after injuries kept him from playing a full season in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He was drafted 11th overall in the 2014 draft, and is currently ranked as Toronto’s 29th-best prospect.

The Fisher Cats and Yard Goats lineup during the national anthem.
Photo by author.

Pentecost will be the Fisher Cats’ primary catcher in a few weeks, but for now, while he works to return from his injuries, he’s alternating starts with Patrick Cantwell. With his home run Friday, Pentecost certainly made a somewhat unexpected impact on a team otherwise packed with stars.

“He’s as exciting as anyone on both sides of the ball when he’s healthy,” Fisher Cats manager John Schneider said after the game. “We’re just kinda getting his feet underneath him now.”

“When you’re not playing every day . . . it’s tough to be consistent in the box, too,” Schneider continued. “Once the dust settles and he’s in there more regularly, I think we can look for a little more consistent offense numbers.”

“He brings athleticism, arm strength, leadership, he can hit — all those things,” Schneider said.

While Pentecost surprised and entertained, the main focus of the game remained Bichette and Guerrero. Batting second and third, respectively, and playing shortstop and third base, respectively, the pair wasn’t at their best, but they still managed to impact the game.

Expectant silence took over the crowd in Guerrero’s first plate appearance — his first in New Hampshire — but with two on, it ended in a strikeout. When watching Guerrero bat, you notice his confidence. He has a calm demeanor, and on any swing, the ball could leave the yard. There’s a hotel past the left field wall, and a porch full of fans. It was begging for a blast.

An emptier-than-expected Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Photo by author.

The crowd at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, 5,628 fans strong, was smaller than expected for a home opener — especially given the lineup, and the fact that the Fisher Cats were off to the best start in franchise history.

Later, Guerrero singled home a run, and in the ninth, he singled again. By the end of the game, he had five at-bats, striking out twice. It brought him to a season average of .333 after eight games played. Bichette, for his part, hit a triple in the bottom of the third to score one, and he walked once in five plate appearances.

The highlight hits from Guerrero and Bichette both came in the third inning, a snippet of what the duo might do for years to come.

“When you write their names in the lineup, you feel comfortable,” Schneider said. “They’re not overmatched or overwhelmed by any means here at this level, and you see the results they’ve had so far; it’s pretty good. They can both do some pretty special things in the box.”

Defensively, Bichette pulled attention. At shortstop, in just the first inning, he dove twice for balls. His arm was showcased in the top of the fourth; he made all three outs of that inning.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. prepares for a hit.

The same wasn’t true for Guerrero. In the third inning, Guerrero did everything right in a run-down between first and second, and he nearly did the splits when stretching for a ball in the fifth, but otherwise he didn’t make any dazzling plays. In the fifth, a liner hit just to his right evaded his glove, scoring two. The blunder may have cost the Fisher Cats the game (although the Yard Goats would later score a run to neutralize the point).

The game originally slipped away from New Hampshire in the first inning. The first run scored as Bo Bichette dove, then quickly shuttled the ball to Lourdes Gurriel. (It was a fantastic play, but the throw pulled Gurriel off of the base — making it an error for Bichette.) A failed double steal ended the inning with Hartford up only by two, a much better ending than what could’ve been.

The Yard Goats scored again in the second, but the Fisher Cats came back with the aforementioned third inning. The top of the fifth, with four runs scored by Hartford, proved to be the end for New Hampshire.

Nick Tepesch, the recent major leaguer who started three games for the Blue Jays in 2017, was charged with five earned runs in 4.1 innings of work. He walked three and only struck out one, struggling to find his breaking ball.

“It just wasn’t there for him tonight from the get-go,” Schneider said. “Getting off to that bumpy start — it was tough for him . . . He did a great job getting through what he got through with what he had tonight.”

The only signs of life from the Fisher Cats after that fifth inning was in the bottom of the sixth; a pair of errors on one play scored two runs, but the inning ended with New Hampshire back by two runs, a deficit they wouldn’t overcome.

Ultimately, with the way team has been trending lately, one loss should spark very little concern. It was the home opener, the Fisher Cats were coming off of the best road trip in franchise history, and Bichette, Guerrero, Gurriel and Biggio were all in the lineup.

And Pentecost, providing a spark and unexpected angle to a game filled with stars.