Game of frustration on night of celebration
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com…
It was a night for tuxedos and a night for “almosts” at NewBridge Bank Park Saturday.
The tuxedos were in honor of Miss Babe Ruth, the Hoppers’ black Labrador retriever who will retire after four more games. Crowd motivator Spaz was formally decked out in a tux, Greensboro’s players wore special black tux-like jerseys with a white “shirt” and orange bow tie on the front, and the staff and ushers wore T-shirts with the bow ties.
Babe rode onto the field in a vintage red roadster with team president (and her owner) Donald Moore. Instead of a first pitch, she carried her bucket, destined for Cooperstown, down a red carpet to home plate.
Despite the festivities, before a crowd of 8,673, the game turned into frustration for the Hoppers. Michael Mader pitched well enough to almost win. K.J. Woods almost had an RBI single and later almost had a game-tying home run. Lakewood wound up with a 2-1 victory in a game that only took two hours.
Mader pitched seven innings, allowed just four hits and two runs, good enough to win most games. Instead, he absorbed his 12th loss of the season, only his second at home.
“That happens,” Mader said. “It’s part of baseball. Next time I might give up three or four run and the offense will pick me up.”
After throwing five shutout innings, Mader faltered just enough for the BlueClaws to get to him in the sixth. He retired the leadoff batter on one pitch, but then walked Drew Stankiewicz on four pitches. Damek Tomscha followed with a two-run homer to right center field.
“The four pitches (to Stankiewicz) weren’t even close,” Mader said. “I didn’t even give him a chance to swing the bat. I threw a 1-0 changeup to Tomscha, a little up, and he hit it to the opposite field.”
Mader was efficient, throwing 50 of his 80 pitches for strikes. He is up to 135 and 2-3 innings for the season with start left, in Asheville.
“We would have liked to have sent him back out (for the eighth inning),” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “but we had to think about his final start. He threw great tonight; the only hiccup was that four-pitch walk.”
Lakewood starter Tyler Viza was equally as sharp. He surrendered a solo homer to Rony Cabrera in the third inning but only four other hits. He issued no walks and struck out six. Manny Martinez pitched a scoreless eighth and Scott Hockenberry earned his 17th save in the ninth.
“Mader gave us seven strong innings and moved the game along nicely,” said manager Kevin Randel. “We just didn’t give him any help.”
That’s where the “almosts” figured in.
In the first inning, Justin Twine tripled with one out. Woods followed with a line drive to right field that against any other team in the league would have been a single with an RBI. But Lakewood employs an extreme shift against Woods, a left-handed power hitter. The BlueClaws put their shortstop to the right of second base and move the second baseman to short right field. And Woods’ liner went right to where he was positioned.
“I didn’t realize until after the play that they had the shift on,” Woods said. “Justin thought it was a hit, too, because he broke for home plate.”
Brian Schales grounded out to end the inning, stranding Twine on third.
On his next at-bat, Woods said he forced the ball to the left side of the infield and grounded a single past the shortstop. On his third trip he scorched a liner to center that was caught. And on his final at-bat, in the bottom of the ninth, he lifted a long fly to right center that Jiandido Tromp jumped and caught at the fence.
“Right off the bat, I thought he got it (deep enough for a home run),” Randel said. “Their center fielder looked like he thought it was gone. He jumped a little early and I thought he might mess it up, but he made the catch. That’s four solid at-bats.”
Woods, rounding second base when the ball was caught, bounced his helmet in frustration. Surprisingly, he didn’t feel he got quite enough of the pitch.
“It was a breaking ball and I tried to stay back on it,” he said. “But I caught it off the end of the bat and it was in the deepest part of the park. That’s the way things have been going lately.”
Hitting coach Luis Quinones said he thought the ball had a chance to go out but was hit a little too high. As for hitting against the shift, he wants Woods to keep his same routine.
“You have to take the same approach and not change anything,” Quinones said. “If you try to make changes, your swing won’t be the same.”
NOTES: The Miami Marlins have decided to shut down starting pitcher Tyler Kolek for the remainder of the season. The second overall pick in the 2014 draft finishes with a 4-10 record amd a 4.56 ERA in 108 2-3 innings … Jorgan Cavanerio will start the second game of the series for the Hoppers Sunday at 4 p.m. … Mason Davis is on the disabled list and Taylor Munden was recalled from Batavia.