FREDERICK — FREDERICK -- File this one under Class-A Ugly.
The Frederick Keys were so inept yesterday in the opening game of the Carolina League playoffs that Orioles general manager Roland Hemond saw fit to give them a pep talk after Wilmington had pinned an 11-0 beating on them at Grove Stadium.
"Once you get down 6-0 that quickly, it is deflating," said Hemond, referring to the first inning. "This was a bad game, their worst of the year. I wanted to remind them that teams have come back from worse than this."
The Keys won the second-half title in the league's Northern Division with a 43-27 record and beat first-half champion Wilmington seven straight times before dropping the last two games of the regular season to the Blue Rocks.
But Frederick was tentative and tense from the first pitch of the best-of-three series yesterday and matters went from awful to atrocious.
Keys starting pitcher Vaughn Eshelman gave up a double, walked four straight and yielded another double, retiring but one batter before departing with a 6-0 deficit. The outfielders fumbled the ball throughout the game and Feliciano Mercedes was thrown out on a two-out steal attempt with his team six runs behind.
Curtis Goodwin, the Keys' leadoff batter, bunted into a double play while attempting to sacrifice in the third inning, getting no start from the plate. That defused another potential rally.
The beneficiary of all these misadventures was Blue Rocks starter Robert Toth, who coasted the distance, pitching a six-hitter.
"It was the perfect time for them to score some runs for me," said Toth. "All I wanted to do after I got the six-run lead was throw strikes."
"They made it easy for me, too," said Blue Rocks manager Ron Johnson. "I didn't have to do any managing."
The tenor of the day was established early when Darren Burton opened the game with a double, advanced to third on a ground ball, then watched as Eshelman walked three straight hitters to send him home.
Another base on balls made it 2-0 and Eshelman then allowed a bases-clearing double by Andy Stewart, who had two strikes on him.
"The only thing I can think of is that as well as he's been pitching lately, he [Eshelman] let the pressure get to him, tried to do too much," said Keys manager Pete Mackanin. "The starting pitcher sets the tone of the game. After he gave up that double, our defense fell apart. "Those guys handled the playoff atmosphere and we didn't."
Frederick is not the type of team to rally from a huge deficit. The Keys finished last in the eight-team league with 75 homers and sixth in team batting. The Keys depend heavily on their league-leading pitching and defense. . . and both failed them.
Scott Klingenbeck (13-4) will try to pick up the pieces for the Keys tonight when the series shifts to Wilmington's Judy Johnson Field. Brian Harrison (13-6) is due to go for the Blue Rocks.