Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) from www.gsohoppers.com….
Barber comes through in clutch again
Fireworks after a baseball game on July 4 always send people home happy.
Blake Barber made sure they were in a good mood before the show even started Thursday night. His two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth carried the Hoppers to a 4-2 win over Lakewood in front of 9,680, the largest crowd of the season.
“It was a great crowd,” Barber said, “probably the largest I’ve ever played in front of. It gets your adrenaline going and helps you relax. It was good to send the crowd home with a smile.”
Barber has made a habit of this walk-off business in the short time he’s been with the team. It was his third such effort in eight days. It started with a three-run homer in the bottom of the 12th inning to beat Delmarva 9-6 on June 27, continued with a game-winning single in the 10th to beat the Shorebirds again 7-6 on June 30, and was extended Thursday.
When manager Jorge Hernandez made out the lineup, he had Barber hitting ninth and playing second base. But when Jesus Solórzano did not feel well, Hernandez shifted Barber to left field and moved him to seventh in the order.
“Anywhere I put him in the lineup, he’s been clutch,” Hernandez said.
Plagued by rain recently — two rainouts in Asheville and more rain during the day Thursday — the Hoppers haven’t been able to get in their regular batting practice. Their rust showed when they were only able to come up with five hits against Lakewood.
But one of them was a two-run homer by Anthony Gomez in the third inning that tied the score at 2-2.
“He (BlueClaws starter Shane Watson) had been mixing up his pitches,” Gomez said. “I wanted to see a fastball and got one middle in. I was able to elevate it and it went out. I haven’t seen that too many times this year.”
It was the fifth homer for Gomez.
“Every once in a while he has some pop that comes out of nowhere,” Hernandez said.
The score stayed there until the ninth when, with two outs, Cody Keefer drew a walk on four straight pitches from reliever Chris Burgess. Barber then took three straight balls and Hernandez gave him the green light to swing away but Barber took a strike instead.
“I wanted to see a strike so I could get my timing down,” Barber said.
On 3-and-1 Keefer broke for second and would have scored on an extra base hit. But Barber drove a fastball to right center that carried into the netting for his third homer.
“I wasn’t trying to hit it out,” he said. “I was just trying for solid contact and if it goes out, it goes out.”
Other factors were important in the win. One was a splendid defensive play by Gomez in the top of the fifth inning. With a runner on third and two out, he went deep in the hole to spear a grounder by Art Charles and got off an off-balance throw that was accurate and beat the runner, saving a run.
“You’ve got to make that attempt,” Gomez said. “(First baseman Viosergy) Rosa is a big target and if you get the ball to him, he can stretch and get it.”
That was one of many runners starting pitcher Ramon Del Orbe stranded. Lakewood went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and Del Orbe always seemed to bear down and battle out of trouble.
“I don’t know how he did it,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley, “but he found a way.”
Del Orbe pitched six innings and Chipper Smith pitched three, winding up with his seventh win of the season against no losses. Smith finished with a flourish, strike out the side in the top of the ninth inning.
“(Smith) has a deceptive fastball with late life on it,” McGinley said. “He attacked hitters and had a good changeup and a good curve with some bite.”
The teams play the second of four games Friday at 7 p.m.