KITCHENER – They say the fourth game is always the toughest to win. No one needs to tell that to Mike McGillivary, whose recent streak of fine pitching came to an abrupt end at Jack Couch Park Thursday night.
The big right hander, who pitched seven shutout innings against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, watched the Leafs knock the ball all over the park and force a Game 6 in their quarter final playoff series with a 17-11 win.
The Panthers, who lead the best of seven series 3-2, now need to travel to Toronto Saturday night to try again to advance to the post-season’s second round.
On this night, the Panthers workhorse was roughed up for 11 runs before the end of the fifth inning, chasing him from the game early and tagged with the loss. Prior to Thursday, McGillivary hadn’t allowed a run in his last three appearances, and hadn’t been pegged for a loss since July 12.
McGillivray, who pitched 215 innings of winter ball in Australia, started the season slowly following about a month and a half where he didn’t pick up a ball at all. But the veteran gradually regained his form and found a groove – logging over 69 innings and a 4.78 earned run average in the regular season.
“The more I throw the better I feel,” he said, prior to the game. “I was a slow start, but once I got back into it, I started throwing better.”
McGillivray said before the game he feels comfortable with the league’s best defense behind him. As if to prove his point, centrefielder Nivins stole away what likely would have been a double by Jon Waltenbury in the first inning with a leaping catch at the wall.
But the usually sure-handed Panthers, who lead the league in fielding percentage, also booted the ball around a bit, committing four errors that proved costly.
The Panthers hitters – who scored 47 runs in the first four games of the series – struck first in the game, when Mike Andrulis hit a lead-off home run in the first, and Tanner Nivins drove in Mitch Delaney from second base.
Designated hitter Bryon Bell, batting a .611 in the playoffs, smashed a standup double in the second inning, and came home on a single by Rick Murray, who punched a shot past second baseman Dan Marra.
Some sloppy play by Toronto gave the Panthers another run, when a wild throw by catcher Damon Topolie let a stealing Mike Andrulis advance to third. He scored when Mike Glinka popped a shot that dropped in no-man’s land in right field.
Toronto tied the game up in the third, when Glenn Jackson and Branfy Arias scored on a single by Raul Borjas, and Waltenbury sent a two-run shot far over the centrefield fence.
McGillivary must have experienced déjà vue as his Panthers fell in a deep hole in the fourth inning. Once again, Borjas ripped another two-run, bases-loaded single and Waltenbury smashed his second two-run shot over the fence, putting Toronto up 9-4.
Toronto tacked on another run in the fifth, when back to back throwing errors to first base put two men aboard for Marra, who drilled a single down the third base line. That was the nail in the coffin for McGillivray, who was replaced by reliever Mike Gatchene.
Gatchene induced a double play and struck out Arias, but not before Topolie scored from third.
Kitchener cut into Toronto’s lead with a two-run homer by Mitch Delaney in the fifth. Nivins nearly repeated that feat, but was robbed by a leaping catch at the fence by Bourjas. Delaney, aboard again on a hooking double in the eight, scored a second time when Darnell Duckett legged out a single.
Matt Vickers came on in seventh inning, but couldn’t stop the bleeding, giving up another four runs. Marcos Reyna pitched the ninth, coughing up a run on bases walk to Waltenbury, but struck out Sean Reilly and Sean Mattson back-to-back to end the inning.
The Panthers, who struck for 16 hits on the night, tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth, when a double by Nivins drove in Keith Kandel, and Taube cracked another double that cashed in Nivins and Delaney. Murray then hit a shot to the gap in left field that cashed in Taube.
But Toronto’s lead proved too much.
The series continues at 7:30 p.m. at Christie Pits Saturday. Game 7 will played at Jack Couch Park in Kitchener at 7 p.m. Sunday if needed.