from Bill Hass with ‘Bill on Baseball’, at www.gsohoppers.com…..
Hoppers hit the road in good
Days off are a precious commodity in the minor leagues.
There are only nine of them built into the 140-game South Atlantic League schedule, although rainouts always create a few extra days and there’s a three-day break for the all-star game.
So the Hoppers welcomed a day of relaxation and fun Wednesday, with most of the team and staff participating in a golf outing. They will be back at the business of baseball on Thursday, when they travel to Asheville for a four-game series, the only meeting of the season for these neighbors just three hours away (don’t get me started on the schedule).
The mood should be good after the day off and following Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Kannapolis in 11 innings. That victory enabled the Hoppers to win the series against the Intimidators 3-1 and to finish 5-3 on the home stand. They lost the first two games, then won five of six.
After struggling to just six wins in their first 20 games of the second half, the Hoppers have pulled up to 11-15. In one sense it doesn’t matter what their record is because they have already earned a berth in the playoffs by winning the Northern Division in the first half. But don’t tell that to manager David Berg.
“You play to win every game,” he said. “We were 22 games over .5oo in the first half (46-24) and I want to get back to that. We scuffled to start the second half and I want them to feel a sense of urgency.”
It will be an intriguing series because it matches the first-half division winners. The Hoppers and Tourists would meet again in the championship round of the playoffs if each wins in the first round. Asheville was 47-23 in the first half and is 15-11 and tied for first in the second half. Its overall record of 62-34 is best in the league (Greensboro is 57-39).
Two Hoppers on the disabled list, outfielders Ryan McIntyre (concussion) and Brent Keys (hamstring), could be activated for the series. It will be interesting to see how roster space is created because the outfield already has Aaron Senne, Rand Smith, James Wooster and John Schultz. Whatever moves are made, don’t be surprised if they involve promoting players to hgh A Jupiter instead of sending them down to short-season Jamestown.
Tuesday’s win was the come-from-behind variety, with the Hoppers rallying from a 4-1 deficit. They scored twice in the sixth on RBIs by Ryan Rieger and Austin Nola and tied the game in the ninth on Rand Smith’s single that scored Matt Smith.
To win it in the 11th, the Hoppers employed classic small-ball strategy. Matt Smith led off with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice by James Wooster, went to third on a groundout by Terrence Dayleg and scored on a single by Wilfredo Gimenez that went just over the first-base bag.
“I wanted to see a good pitch and drive the ball the other way,” said Gimenez, a right-handed hitter. “I got a fastball and stayed back on it. It feels great to help the team win. I don’t care about being 0-for-4 (before the hit) because we won the game.”
Jose Urena pitched six innings and gave up four runs, including a two-run shot by Chris Curley that was his fourth homer in three games. That came in the fifth and Urena pitched an important inning when he came back out for the sixth and set the Intimidators down in order. Dejai Oliver and Brad Mincey combined for five shutout innings, with Mincey pitching the last three and getting the win.
Matt Smith had a solo home run, a double and single and scored three runs, a big day for a player who hasn’t been used much in the second half.
“I just want to play hard and maximize the opportunities I get,” he said. “There’s no pressure. Just relax and have fun.”
Smith certainly maximized his opportunity in the ninth inning. He led off with a hit to left-center that he hustled into a double and eventually scored the tying run.
“People don’t expect me to run,” said Smith, who is 6-3, 230. “I rounded first base and they hadn’t picked up the ball yet, so I decided to take a chance. I’m faster than people think.”
Berg called the play “aggressive and a good read (on the outfielders) by him.”
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