Hoppers drop a one-run game this time
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at www.gsohoppers.com
The Hoppers have specialized in winning one-run games this season, but one finally went against them Thursday night.
And it took a bizarre play to beat them as Delmarva squeezed out a 1–0 win.
It was the 28th one-run game of the season for the Hoppers, who have won 20 of them. Every game of the three games against the Shorebirds was decided by one run, with the Hoppers taking the first two by 12–11 and 3–2.
The loss cost the Hoppers a game in the Northern Division standings. First-place Hickory beat Hagerstown to extend its lead over the Suns and the Hoppers to three games. West Virginia is four games back.
Seventeen games remain in the regular season and the Hoppers will face Hickory eight times?—?four in a home stand that begins Friday and four more at Hickory to end the season. While the upcoming series is important, the players don’t see it as do-or-die.
“Every series you try to go out and win,” said outfielder Aaron Knapp. “Hickory being in first place adds a little edge to it. We’re not too concerned yet. We’re playing good baseball and a lot can happen in three weeks.”
As for Thursday’s game, the teams might still be playing except for that one bizarre play in the top of the sixth inning. Hoppers starter Michael King got in some trouble when Jake Ring doubled and went to third on a single by Collin Woody. King had worked out of a bases-loaded jam two innings earlier by posting two strikeouts.
With Delmarva’s Ryan McKenna at the plate, King stumbled on his delivery and somersaulted head over heels as the pitched sailed over the head of catcher Jarett Rindfleisch and Ring scored from third base.
King said that when he brought his left leg down from his windup, his cleat got stuck in the dirt on the mound and he fell over his front leg.
“I’ve done that before,” he said, “but never from the stretch and never with a man on base. I tried to throw the ball into the dirt to give my catcher a chance (to field it). All my momentum was going forward and I had no idea where the ball was going.
“It sucks that it happened and the only run of the game scored.”
Nobody in the locker room felt worse than King, who said “that one’s on me.”
But Rindfleisch was having none of that.
“One pitch shouldn’t have mattered,” he said. “It’ on the offense tonight. I had chances with runners in scoring position and I couldn’t put the ball in play. Our situational hitting wasn’t there. We couldn’t pick him (King) up tonight.”
Otherwise, King pitched well, shutting out the Shorebirds for the first five innings.
“We had a good game plan because we’ve played them so much,” he said. “I was able to use both sides of the plate and keep them off-balance.”
Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said that during his career he had done the same thing King did.
“It happens more often than you think,” DiFelice said, “especially with guys who have a lot of drive with their back side. It was just one of those freak instances.”
Manager Todd Pratt noted that “you can’t win when you don’t score any runs. It wouldn’t have mattered if King had thrown a no-hitter. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other pitchers.”
Lucas Humpal, Delmarva’s starter, pitched six shutout innings, allowing four hits while striking out 10. Francisco Jimenez worked around two walks in his two innings but didn’t allow a hit. Jake Bray, whom the Hoppers tagged for five runs in Tuesday’s comeback win, this time slammed the door, allowing a hit but striking out the side to gain his 15th save.
The Hoppers’ best chance to score came in the fifth inning. Walker Olis singled and Luis Pintor doubled down the line into the left field corner with one out. Cole Billingsley came up with the ball and quickly hit the cutoff man, so third base coach Angel Espada held Olis at third.
Brian Miller then hit a sharp grounder right at first baseman Preston Palmiero. Olis broke for home on the play and Palmeiro threw him out. Knapp struck out to end the inning.
“It was a contact play,” Espada said, meaning Olis was running as soon as the ball was hit. “Those are the chances you take.”
The Hoppers got two runners on base in the eighth on back-to-back walks, but Eric Gutierrez grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Now the attention turns to Hickory, with Dustin Beggs starting Friday’s game.
“We’re still in a good spot for a four-game series with them,” Pratt said. “We’ve got 17 games and a lot of season left.”
NOTES: Pintor had two of the Hoppers’ five hits … Greensboro won the season series from Delmarva 11–8 … The teams played seven one-run games, with the Hoppers winning five .. Rony Cabrera turned in a sparkling defensive play at second base, ranging to his left to spear a grounder on the outfield grass, then spinning and getting off a good throw to first baseman Trenton Hill for the out.