Upper Darby 5, Aston Valley 3

At 48, Gonzalez still a complete-game player

By Terry Toohey ttoohey@21st-centurymedia. com @TerryToohey on Twitter

ASTON TWP. >> After throwing five innings of three-hit ball Wednesday night, Upper Darby pitcher Johnny Gonzalez grabbed 3½ hours of sleep and then dutifully reported to Fizzano Brothers at 2  a.m. Thursday morning where he works as a tractor-trailer driver.

Following a brief nap after his shift, Gonzalez showed up at Jim Buggy Memorial Field late Thursday afternoon to finish what he started in Game 4 of the Delco League championship series, which had been suspended by darkness and weather with the score tied less than 24 hours earlier.

No one in the Blue Sox dugout was surprised.

“He’s a freak of nature. I don’t know where he gets the gas,” Upper Darby catcher Christian Strickland said of Gonzalez. “He’s running on something. To pitch five innings last night and come back and pitch four innings tonight is ridiculous. He’s a vet and we love him for it.”

The rubber-armed righty followed up Wednesday’s performance with four shutout innings as the Blue Sox took advantage of a pair of ninth-inning errors to beat Aston Valley, 5-3, and tie the best-of-five Delco League championship series at two games apiece.

Game 5 is Friday at Cardinal O’Hara at 5:30.

“Johnny Gonzalez, Game 5 starter,” Upper Darby manager Dave Jerdon pronounced.

Jerdon was kidding, of course. That would be too much to ask of the 48-yearold Gonzalez. But make no mistake about it, the Blue Sox are alive because of his remarkable two-day, nine inning complete game six-hitter.

“He’s unreal. He’s the best ever,” first baseman Joe Suppa said. “Johnny goes down in history already, and then after throwing yesterday, to come back today and finish a complete game is something that nobody does. Only Johnny does that.”

Gonzalez picked up where he left off. He allowed two hits in the final four innings. He also hit two batters and pitched out of jams in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to force a fifth and deciding game. He dug deep into his bag of tricks to keep the Blue Sox alive.

“Muscle memory,” Gonzalez said when asked how he was able to come back and throw four more innings. “I’ve done it so long that even sometimes it amazes me. Yesterday, I had a so-so slider but today I just went back to the basics, just let it go, let it fly. Today it was working well. I threw one for a strike and I thought, ‘Wait a second, I have something here,’ and I started using it with two strikes, like the old Johnny.” 

Upper Darby did not let that herculean effort go to waste. The Blue Sox capitalized on a pair of Aston Valley errors to score two unearned runs in the top of the ninth inning. Suppa reached base when Aston Valley pitcher Jack Liberio failed to catch an infield popup in front of the mound. Steve Theisen followed with a fly ball to center field that Roman Tozzi overran to put runners at the corners.

Strickland followed with a fly ball to center to score Suppa with the tie-breaking run.

“It’s kind of an approach thing I’ve had all summer,” Strickland said. “A guy on third base with less than two outs, I just kind of read the field. If the infield is in I try to hit it over their heads ... try to, at least. If the infield is out I just try to have an easy swing, hit a grounder and get that run in any way I can.”

Vince Gasbarro followed with his fourth hit of the game to put runners on the corners again. Theisen then turned to his college days to coax a balk from Liberio to give the Blue Sox a two-run cushion.

“I got my lead off of third base and acted like I was going to steal home,” Theisen said. “A lefty pitcher can hear my feet, but he can’t see me. I started running halfway home and I saw him jitter back like he was going to step off the mound and the home plate umpire called a balk.”

Gonzalez needed a little help to finish off his complete game and Suppa came through for his pitcher. He made a leaping catch on a line drive to take a hit from Kody Clausius, then made a diving catch on Rob Tozzi on a potential extra bases drive toward first. Gonzalez then got Matt Domain to ground out to second base to end it.

“We had to win this game for Johnny,” Suppa said. “If we would have lost this game I would have never talked to anyone again. Johnny goes out and puts it all on the line and you want to go out and win it for him. He deserved it. That was for him. Hopefully, we can win this next one and make it worth something.”

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NOTES >> Game 5 will be a rematch of Game 1 starters Trevor Jump for Aston Valley and Luke D’Ambrosio for the Blue Sox. Jump went six innings, allowed four hits and struck out seven to lead the Knights to a 5-1 win. … Aston Valley is going for its sixth league title and first since 2017. Upper Darby is seeking its first Delco League crown.