THE SHACKLES were finally released from Kevin Pfeifer. The Central senior could finally step onto the diamond. Seconds after his team secured the third out to beat Frankford, 7-3, in the Public League championship at La Salle University, Pfeifer busted through the fence.
He screamed, propelled himself onto a mob of players at the pitcher's mound and was sandwiched by more players. After missing the game because of a one-game suspension, Pfeifer could exhale. His season isn't over yet.
"It feels amazing," Pfeifer said. "Amazing. I can't even explain it."
Behind timely hitting, solid pitching and a backbreaking tripleplay, Central (18-1) gave Pfeifer this chance at redemption. Next up is the AAAA City Title game tomorrow against Catholic League champion Monsignor Bonner at FDR Park.
Pfeifer was barred from play after getting ejected from his team's semifinal game against Girard Academic Music Program for tossing his helmet into the dirt on a questionable out at home. In still photos taken from a video shot by the parent of a Central player, he appears safe. But the ruling stood. Unable to sit near his team - period - Pfeifer was banished to the bleachers.
Officials made him turn his Central warmup shirt inside out. Some 30 yards away from his team, a restless Pfeifer looked on. Wasn't easy.
"It's really hard knowing you can't do anything to help the team whatsoever but cheer," Pfeifer said. "But they're a great group of guys. They know how to play baseball."
The turning point came in the fourth inning. With the longtime rivals knotted at two, a pair of plays buried Frankfort (15-5). First, with the bases juiced, Central sophomore Julien Blancon drilled a missile down the left side to drive home all three.
The ensuing inning, Central buried Frankford with a 1-5-3-4-5-2 - get all that? - tripleplay.
In short, Frankford gambled and lost. Full of speed throughout the lineup, the Fords took a chance.
Augusto Ortega was at bat, with Omar Cruz on second and Ricky Alvarez on first. Ortega hit a comebacker to pitcher Peter Rowe. After Cruz was forced at third, Ortega continued around first and tried to get to second, where he was tagged out by second baseman Gabe Buchanan. Alvarez wandered off third, and Buchanan gunned to Ricardo Tull, who then fired to Blancon, the catcher, to complete the tripleplay, tagging out Alvarez at the plate.
Or, as Frankford coach Juan Namnun called it, "a big mess."
"I can't say we work on it," Central coach Rich Weiss said. "But we do work on throwing the ball around the horn and making good throws. The guys are heads-up."
The constant for Central was Rowe. Offensively, Rowe airmailed a triple over the centerfielder's head to give Central a 6-2 lead. On the mound, the junior remained undefeated by slowly dismantling Frankford. In a complete game, Rowe struck out six and walked three to improve to 8-0 on the season.
After the tripleplay bonanza, Rowe quietly shifted the game into autopilot. Frankford never threatened.
"I knew I was going to get the start and I wanted to pitch as economically as I could," Rowe said. "Try to get outs."
Added Weiss: "Pete has been that way all year. He has just been unbelievable."
In one sense, Namnun isn't disappointed at all. Neither team had an error. His defense was mostly solid. But with runners on base early, Frankford couldn't connect.
"One hit here and one hit there, and the complexity of the game changes," he said. "That's what I'll remember."
Before storming the field to meet his team, Pfeifer checked with an official for clearance. No more taking chances. He swears he learned his lesson, taking full responsibility for the helmet toss. Even if he was safe, Pfeifer said he never should have lost his cool.
But now, he gets a second chance. Tomorrow, Pfeifer could be on the mound, willing his team to the state playoffs. What a difference a week makes.