BANGOR, Maine — Chris Tucker couldn’t recall his last chance to step to the plate against an opposing team’s pitcher.
“It was a long time ago,” he said.
The Kennett Square, Pa., left fielder doesn’t have to think back too far now, having marked his return to the batting order with a three-run triple in the top of the seventh inning that helped lift the U.S. East champions to a 9-4 victory over Pearl City, Hawaii, in a Senior League World Series semifinal at Mansfield Stadium.
Tucker worked the count to 2-2 with two outs and then fouled off three pitches before driving the ball over the head of Hawaii center fielder Nicholas Au to clear the bases and give his team a 9-3 cushion.
“I normally pull the ball but that one went to center,” he said. “I was so relieved to be out of my slump.”
Tucker’s slump had been so pronounced that he had been replaced in the batting order by a designated hitter since midway through the Pennsylvania state tournament more than three weeks ago — and hadn’t batted since then until being penciled into the No. 9 slot in the Kings’ lineup against Hawaii.
“Chris has struggled tremendously at the bat for us, so we decided to DH for him and he took on the role well,” said Kennett Square manager Todd Duerr. “In between states and now, every day Chris has been on the batting tee, in the batting cage, asking me for tips on what he could do. We worked with him a lot, and finally it clicked.”
Tucker ultimately got a chance to hit after Duerr’s son and the team’s starting catcher, Eric Duerr, was injured in a home-plate collision with a baserunner from Chitre, Herrera, Panama, during a pool-play game Wednesday night.
But Tucker already had shown signs that he was close to earning another chance to bat.
“He made some adjustments three or four days ago and started nailing it in the cage,” said Kennett Square coach Mike Pechin. “I told him he was going to hit without the DH one of these games and unfortunately Eric got hurt and he got in the lineup that way.”
Tucker’s first two at-bats represented a Murphy’s Law experience for a slumping hitter, as Au made two diving catches to rob him of RBI singles — the first time with two on and two out in the first inning and the second time with the bases loaded and two out in the third.
He flied out to center again in the sixth, but an inning later he hit a ball even Au couldn’t track down.
“I give that Hawaii center fielder tremendous accolades for some of those Superman catches, and then when he came up again and got that 2-2 count and fouled three balls off and then banged that triple, to Chris’ credit that’s what hard work does,” Duerr said.
Duerr coping with concussion
Eric Duerr, the regular Kennett Square, Pa., catcher, will not be available for his team’s SLWS championship rematch against Chitre, Herrera, Panama, on Saturday after being injured in a home-plate collision with Panamanian baserunner Javier Garcia during the teams’ earlier pool-play meeting Wednesday night.
“The sum total of it is that he has very bad whiplash and he has a concussion, he’s done for a long time,” said his father, Kennett Square manager Todd Duerr. “It’s unfortunate. I will have to say that it’s questionable what happened out there [with the collision] and I’ll leave it at that, but he is up and around.
“When he came out last night to watch the game it calmed a lot of nerves of everybody involved — parents, players, even the fans in the stands were tremendously gracious in asking about how he’s doing.”
The younger Duerr was in his team’s dugout for its 9-4 semifinal win over Pearl City, Hawaii, on Friday.
“He’s got a long road to recovery,” said Todd Duerr. “His head’s killing him right now listening to these guys cheering in the dugout, but to this team’s credit between all the family issues they’ve had in terms of losses and others who aren’t doing well, Eric’s become the latest rallying point.”
Undefeated Panama defeated Kennett Square 5-3 in their earlier meeting, the U.S. East team’s lone loss.
SLWS alum Wong promoted to majors
Six years ago, Kolten Wong led Hilo, Hawaii, to the Senior League World Series at Mansfield Stadium.
On Friday the second baseman made his major league debut.
Wong, the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2011 first-year player draft by the St. Louis Cardinals after his junior year at the University of Hawaii, was added to the Cardinals’ active roster and joined the club in Chicago for its weekend series against the Cubs, according to MLB.com.
Wong batted sixth and played second base Friday, pushing 2013 National League All-Star Matt Carpenter to third base and sending regular third baseman David Freese to the bench.
Wong was batting .303 with 21 doubles, eight triples, 10 home runs, 45 RBIs and 68 runs scored in his first year with Triple-A Memphis before joining the parent club. He also represented the Cardinals in the All-Star Futures Game at Citi Field in July and competed in the Arizona Fall League last fall.
Wong was one of the stars of the 2007 Senior League World Series, batting .538 (7 of 13) with six RBIs, seven runs scored, two home runs and two doubles while playing catcher and second base for Hilo, Hawaii.
The Big Islanders went 4-0 in pool play, then lost 5-4 in the semifinals to Falcon, Venezuela.
Wong subsequently was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round after graduating from high school, but opted to attend the University of Hawaii where he posted a .358 career batting average while being named an America Baseball Coaches Association first-team All-American, Baseball America third-team All-American and a three-time All-Western Athletic Conference first-team honoree.
Wong becomes the ninth Senior League World Series alumnus since the tournament was brought to Bangor in 2002 to play in a major league game. That group that includes 2013 NL All-Star Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies, current Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar.