This past Sunday, the Manchester-Essex Mariners captured the Intertown Twilight League (ITL) baseball title in a closely matched game, the fifth of the series, against the Rowley Rams. The game marked a triumphant return for the Mariners, who won nine of the last twelve season titles but fell to the Rockport Townies in both the 2017 and 2018 ITL championships.
In the Intertown Twilight League, which is recognized by the National Baseball Hall of Game as the oldest active amateur baseball league in the country, teams from seven Cape Ann towns compete against each other annually during the summer. Most players are current or former high school or college players (in fact, a few Mariners also played for the MERHS varsity baseball team in the state division championship earlier this June), while some have had professional experience.
ITL games provide some great baseball, and Sunday’s game was no exception. And it almost didn’t even take place. The M-E Mariners clinched the first and second games of the championship before the Rams came back to win game three. If the Mariners continued to win game four, the championship would have ended there, but the Rams won yet again, forcing a final, “winner-takes-all” game.
The Rams had turned it around in their favor. And for those watching Sunday’s game, it seemed as if the Rams were going to take it all. By the bottom of the seventh inning, Rowley was up 2-0, and time to act was dwindling. But Manchester-Essex rallied, putting up two runs and sending the game into extra innings.
In the ninth inning, Rusty Tucker of the Mariners (who also pitched each inning) hit a hard drive that narrowly passed over the opposing player’s glove and into the marsh for a walk-off homer. The ball came so close to the glove —a matter of inches — that Tucker and his teammates initially thought it was caught. But after realizing what really happened, Tucker sprinted across the bases for a 3-2 win, and the rest of the Mariners poured out onto the field in celebration.
It was a hard-fought game coming at the tail end of a hard-fought championship series. Both the Mariners and the Rams demonstrated a stellar effort this season, and fans will be eagerly anticipating next year’s ITL games (to start up again in May 2020).