As Babe retires, Hoppers finish home season with a win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com…
The Hoppers won one for Babe.
Greensboro’s celebrated black Labrador retriever ended her consecutive-games streak at 649 Wednesday as the Hoppers beat Lakewood 10-6 in the final home game of the season. She delivered her final bucket of baseballs to home plate umpire Mac Dietz in the second inning, fetched her final bat after Austen Smith grounded out in the fourth inning and ran the bases for the last time after the game.
And, after retrieving a ball thrown into the outfield, she used the green grass as her restroom for a final time before heading into retirement.
Her bucket will be sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and Smith’s bat is destined for the Greensboro Historical Museum.
With all that going on, how could the Hoppers not have won?
They did, snapping a seven-game losing streak and avoiding a five-game series sweep, by hitting four home runs, which accounted for nine of their runs.
“It was nice that the offense showed up today,” said manager Kevin Randel. “(Scoring on home runs) has been our M.O. all year.”
Smith set the tone in the first inning with a titanic three-run blast to straightaway center that hit well up the batter’s eye backdrop. Later, Felix Castillo, Justin Twine and John Norwood all hit two-run shots. Castillo added the only non-home run RBI on a groundout.
Smith said Lakewood pitcher Shane Watson had thrown him a curve on the previous pitch and he was looking for it again.
“He left it up and I made up my mind I wasn’t going to miss it,” he said. “When you hit it off the sweet spot like that, you don’t even feel it off the bat.”
Smith used the same bat his next time up, but after Babe retrieved it the bat disappeared.
“It was really funny,” Smith said. “I looked for it my next time up and couldn’t find it. Someone said it was going to the Hall of Fame (bad information, as it turned out). So I grabbed one out of the bat rack.”
He popped up that time, but got his original bat back in the seventh inning and singled, putting him on base for Twine’s homer.
Relief pitching, as it has done often this season, saved the day. Jose Velez struck out three in an inning-and-a-third to pick up the win. Kyle Fischer pitched the last two innings and earned his 12th save.
“Fischer wasn’t at his best,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “but he got the job done. Velez really picked us up.”
The Hoppers will leave Thursday morning to begin a five-game series at Asheville to end the season. Despite the cities being just three hours apart, this will be the first meeting between the teams this season.
“It was good to win the last home game,” Norwood said, “and give the fans something to be happy about. Now maybe we can go win a series in Asheville to finish the season.”
It will be no easy task. Since Savannah won both halves in the Southern Division, the Tourists are in a battle with Greenville for the second playoff spot and will field their best lineup every day. They lead the league in stolen bases.
NOTES: It was the 17th homer of the season for Smith, 15th for Norwood, seventh for Twine and second for Castillo … Newcomer Ben Meyer gave the Hoppers two scoreless innings of relief before giving up two runs in his third inning of work … The BlueClaws hit a pair of homers, bringing the combined total for the afternoon to six.