Quantrill hopes gem inspires at LL Classic

Cleveland righty goes 7 scoreless in shutout, sweep of Angels

August 23rd, 2021

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Nearly 2,000 fans packed into Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field on Sunday night, including 16 Little League teams that lined the front rows of the ballpark from third base to first base. Although they screamed the loudest for Angels star Shohei Ohtani, it was Indians starter who put on the show.

“It was almost more nerve-racking throwing for a bunch of preteens than it is in regular [games],” Quantrill joked. “But no, I think this is a really cool event and just getting to play for all these kids. They took a little time out of their schedule playing games to come watch us play. That’s pretty cool.”

Quantrill dazzled through seven sparkling frames, allowing just two hits in the Indians’ 3-0 victory over the Angels. It marked the first time Cleveland won three consecutive games since July 8-10 against the Royals.

Quantrill had been elite since the second half of the season got underway, but last time out, he struggled more than he had in his previous six starts. But if there was any concern that his dominance was nearing its end, he quickly proved just the opposite. He was electric, allowing just a leadoff single to Ohtani in the first and a base hit to David Fletcher in the third. Aside from two walks, Quantrill retired the rest of the batters he faced, including striking out the side in the fourth. His nine K’s were his second-highest total of the season, as he fanned 10 against the Tigers on Aug. 6.

“Since the All-Star break, it just seems like he’s commanding more of his pitches, you know?” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said. “You think about the nine strikeouts he had tonight, he used his cutter a little bit more. He also got a couple strikeouts with his fastball and also his slider. You see him pitching, he’s using his repertoire much better and it’s just not one or two pitches that he’s going to. He’s been throwing the ball and pitching the ball very well.”

But Quantrill had a bigger goal in Sunday’s outing than in any other start this season. His audience was made of 12-year-olds who, just like Quantrill 14 years ago, are dreaming of being in his shoes one day. And while the right-hander’s primary goal was leading his team to a victory, he also wanted to leave the Little Leaguers with a lasting impression.

“I hope that they all see that it’s not that crazy that they can probably do what we’re doing,” Quantrill said. “We’re not that much older than them. We’ve got a really young team.”

Quantrill’s message was widespread throughout the Indians’ dugout. Throughout the game (and even before first pitch), Triston McKenzie talked to the kids with the New Jersey and Michigan Little League teams who sat behind Cleveland’s bench, a handful of players stopped to sign autographs and players threw plenty of balls into the stands to send the kids home with some souvenirs.

“I think Triston was having more fun with the kids than he was watching the game,” Quantrill said. “But no, I think this is a really cool dynamic. We were able to kind of take the fence out of it and spend a little time even during the game doing stuff we wouldn’t normally do. So, yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.”

It was a long day that started with a flight from Cleveland to Williamsport and ended with a flight back home. In the middle were memories, friendships (considering McKenzie was asked by one Little Leaguer to follow him on Instagram and the Indians hurler obliged) and a victory in the team’s first appearance at the Little League Classic.

“When they were leaving in the ninth inning, they were saying, ‘Hey we want to stay, but we know we got to go,’” Hale said of the young fans behind the Indians’ dugout. “You’re hearing the voices and you’re hearing the passion of those Little Leaguers. … Just a fun atmosphere.”