Leafs edge Thunderbirds in IBL season opener

Marek Deska pitched six shutout innings and the Toronto Maple Leafs mustered up just enough offence to edge the Hamilton Thunderbirds 3-2 in their Intercounty Baseball League opener on a soggy Dominico Field at Christie Pits on Sunday afternoon (May 1).

Former major league greats Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Bunning and Tony Oliva were on hand to help the Leafs kick off their 43rd season in the IBL, making it a special day for the fans who braved the dreary weather that resulted in a 14-minute delay to try and keep the field playable in the eighth inning.

The Leafs survived the off and on showers and a determined effort by the Thunderbirds to finally eke out the win. The Leafs made the most of just six hits to win their home opener one day after former manager Dick Williams and slugger Eddie Murray joined Jenkins, Bunning and Oliva at the team’s annual Forum and Reception.

Deska made this win possible with a strong start, allowing just three singles over his six innings with eight strikeouts and no walks.

Reliever Brett Lawson picked him up and allowed one unearned run and three hits in 1 2/3 innings before Mel Melehes survived a tense ninth inning to pick up the save. Melehes went just 1 1/3 hitless innings but got credit for five strikeouts due to a passed ball and one walk before finally closing it out in the ninth.

Sean Travers had a single and drove in what turned out to be the game-winning run in the eighth with a sacrifice squeeze, while Dan Gibbons also singled and scored twice. Damon Topolie added an RBI single to the Toronto attack.

Hamilton used five pitchers, with reliever Tim Black taking the loss. He allowed two runs in the sixth, one unearned, on two hits. The Hamilton pitchers gave up just six hits.

The teams played scoreless ball until Toronto plated two runs in the sixth. Hamilton got one back in the eighth and another in the ninth after Toronto added a third score in the eighth.

Chris Piano had two of Hamilton’s six hits, while Mike Gottschalk added an RBI single.

On Saturday (May 7) Hamilton plays in Brantford while Ottawa visits Burlington. Both games have 2 p.m. starts.