Bill Hass on Greensboro Grasshoppers Playoff Baseball:Bullpen carries Hoppers in Game 1(“Key quotes now in content”)

Posted by Press Release on September 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball, at……

Bullpen carries Hoppers in Game 1

The Hoppers used a familiar formula — a splendid effort by the bullpen and striking first on the scoreboard in a road game — to beat Asheville 6-3 Monday night in the opening game of the South Atlantic League championship series.

The teams will play the second game Tuesday night at McCormick Field. After a day off Wednesday, the series will resume Thursday and play to its conclusion at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro.

In the first game of the Northern Division championship series last week, the Hoppers scored first and went on to win in Hagerstown 3-1. Then they polished off the Suns in Greensboro 7-5 to win the series. That one was best-of-3 and this one is best-of-5.

“Winning the first game is huge,” said manager David Berg. “I wasn’t as nervous before the game as I was (in Hagerstown) but after the third inning I was. These games let you know you’re alive with what they do to your nerves.”

The Hoppers’ bullpen pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings. After starter Andrew Heaney was lifted with two outs in the fifth inning, Brad Mincey got the final out, then put up zeroes in the sixth and seventh innings. Kevin Cravey retired the side in order in the eighth and Nick Wittgren did the same in the ninth, recording his third straight post-season save.

The Hoppers took the lead in the second inning when Josh Adams singled and Matt Smith hit an opposite-field home run over the high fence in right field. That made it 2-0 and the Hoppers would never relinquish the lead, or let Asheville tie it, all night.

“Smitty is a big boy and he drives the ball well in this park,” Berg said of Smith, who hit three homers in four games when the Hoppers played at McCormick in July.

Asheville got a run back in the third on a sacrifice fly, but Adams answered with a home run to lead off the fourth for a 3-1 lead.

The Tourists scored in the fourth on Jared Simon’s RBI single to cut the lead to a run. But the Hoppers answered again when Brent Keys hit a sacrifice fly to score Ryan Goetz that made it 4-2.

Once again Asheville responded, picking up a run in the fifth on Sam Mende’s single with two outs. That’s when Hoppers manager David Berg removed the left-handed Heaney, who had nine strikeouts but allowed seven hits and walked one.

“Heaney did a good job,” Berg said. “He gave up some hits but he never gave in. It wasn’t like they were hitting lasers off him. It looked like he was getting a little tired. We didn’t go by pitch count, it was more by eyesight.”

The decision also had something to do with the batter. Will Swanner, a right-handed hitter, had a long at-bat in the second against the left-handed Heaney, fouling off numerous pitches before striking out. Then he doubled against Heaney in the fourth. The right-handed Mincey came in and retired Swanner on a grounder to third base to end the inning.

Mincey got into a jam in the seventh after a pair of two-out singles and a fielding error by Keys put runners on second and third. He fell behind Swanner 3-0, throwing a couple of pitches in the dirt that Berg said were blocked well by catcher Wilfredo Gimenez to prevent the runner on third from scoring. Mincey battled back and got two called strikes, then retired Swanner on a grounder to short to end the threat.

“It was a gutsy effort by Mincey,” Berg said.

In the top of the ninth, the Hoppers tacked on a pair of insurance runs. Austin Nola’s sacrifice fly scored Smith and a single by Wilfredo Gimenez drove in Ryan Rieger.

“Adding those two runs in the ninth gave us a very good feeling,” Berg said.

Smith had three hits and scored twice, Adams had two hits and two runs and Gimenez and Austin Barnes added two hits apiece.

Jose Urena will start Tuesday’s game for the Hoppers.

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