from Bill Hass, with Bill on Baseball at www.gsohoppers.com:
Hoppers’ scintillating run continues
The Grasshoppers don’t have an official motto, but perhaps Mark Canha best summed up the way the team has been playing.
“There are nine innings and you just keep going until something happens,” he said. “You can’t stop playing and you can’t give at-bats away.”
Down 7-1 to Delmarva after the third inning Tuesday, the Hoppers pecked away and cut the lead to 7-4, then scored six times in the eighth to beat the Shorebirds 10-7. Canha’s three-run homer capped the rally.
It was the seventh win in a row for the Hoppers and they concluded their final homestand of the regular season by winning eight of the nine games. They have a day off today and finish the season with five games at Kannapolis.
Here’s the way things stand. Hickory and Lakewood split a doubleheader, Kannapolis beat Rome and Hagerstown lost to Asheville. So in the second-half race in the Northern Division, Hickory is in first, Kannapolis is one-half game behind, the Hoppers are three back, Lakewood trails by four and Hagerstown has been eliminated.
In the wild card race, which takes effect if Hickory remains in first place, the Hoppers trail Kannapolis by half a game. Hagerstown is mathematically alive but on the verge of elimination. Lakewood is out of the wild card race.
The Hoppers would have been in worse position if they hadn’t rallied to beat the Shorebirds, completing a five-game sweep.
An overlooked factor was the Hoppers’ relief pitching. After the Birds put up seven runsagainst starter Robert Morey in the third inning, Greg Nappo, Chris Shafer and Miguel Mejia combined to allow no runs and three hits through the next five innings. Michael Brady earned the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
“We had to shut them out to have a chance,” manager Andy Haines said. “Shafer and Mejia, in particular, were outstanding.”
Down by six runs, the Hoppers got one back in the fifth and two more in the seventh. That was a potentially bigger inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, but Canha, Aaron Dudley and J.T. Realmuto all fanned against Shorebirds reliever Kyle Simon.
“I didn’t have a good at-bat in the seventh,” Canha said, “and usually I beat myself up after something like that. But this time I told myself, ‘just stick with it and you’ll get another chance in a big situation.’”
The Shorebirds chose to lift Simon, a third-round draft pick in June, and had Ryan Palsha begin the eighth. He was greeted with consecutive doubles by Ryan Fisher, Danny Black and Isaac Galloway to score two runs. Haines asked Noah Perio to sacrifice and he laid down a perfect bunt to advance Galloway to third.
Delmarva made another change, to closer Dave Walters, who hadn’t pitched in the series. Marcell Ozuna hit a grounder to third and Haines sent Galloway home. The play at the plate was close, but Galloway was safe on the fielder’s choice to tie the score 7-7. Ozuna rolled his ankle stepping on first base but remained in the game.
Haines said it was a contact play, meaning Galloway was going home no matter where the ball was hit. He added it’s not easy to score on that play, but Galloway got a great jump.
“Andy was yelling ‘go, go’ so I went,” Galloway said. “I knew the ball was coming home so I kind of got in the catcher’s line of vision and he never caught it.”
After a single by Christian Yelich, Canha got the chance he was hoping for. He took a slider for a ball and expected a fastball next from Walters.
“They didn’t want to walk me to load the bases,” he said, “so it was do or die. I figured he would be aggressive with his fastball and he threw it up and in. That’s a pitch I’ve been hammering lately.”
This one left no doubt, clearing Natty’s Hill in left field and staking the Hoppers to a 10-7 lead.
“He had a pretty impressive mindset up these,” Haines said of Canha. “He absolutely blistered that ball.”
Nine innings and just keep playing until something happens. Works for the Hoppers.