Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers win another by one run

Hoppers win another by one run
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

The nature of baseball can be confounding and Brian Miller knows it.

One night after pounding out four doubles?—?which tied a South Atlantic League record?—?Miller hit a little chip shot that fell in the right place and gave the Hoppers a 3–2 win over Delmarva in 10 innings.

“That’s how the game goes,” he said. “You can hit the ball hard right at someone and you can hit one at 20 miles an hour that falls in.”

Wednesday’s game was completely different from the Hoppers’ 12–11 win Tuesday, when the teams combined for 28 hits, including five homers, nine doubles and a triple. This time, with an additional inning, they totaled 14 hits with one homer and three doubles.

But the stat that really mattered was the Hoppers’ 28th win of the second half, pulling them within two games of Hickory in the Northern Division. The Crawdads lead the second half with a 31–21 record. The Hoppers and Hagerstown are tied at 28–22 and West Virginia is now three games back at 28–24.

Wednesday’s game was tied 2–2 going into the bottom of the 10th when J.C. Millan led off with a single. Aaron Knapp ran for Millan and was sacrificed to second by Jhonny Santos. Rony Cabrera was intentionally walked to bring up Miller, a left-handed hitter, against lefty reliever Matt Trowbridge.

“Against a left-hander I try to open my stance a little to help my vision and see the ball a little longer,” Miller said. “That guy was tough and he did his job. I got jammed inside and thankfully it found the right spot.”

Miller’s swing sent a soft, opposite-field hit down the left field line that landed about a foot inside the foul line. Knapp easily scored from second base on the hit, officially scored a double.

The game-winning hit atoned for a costly base-running mistake by Miller in the eighth inning. With one out he singled and then stole second base. He made a move toward third base but pitcher Kory Groves caught him off the bag and Miller was tagged out in a rundown.

“I was trying to be aggressive there,” Miller said. “I was upset because I could have been the winning run. But you just move on from your mistakes.”

Manager Todd Pratt credited the bottom of the order, ?7 hitter Millan and ?8 Santos, for setting things up.

“Millan had a big hit and Santos made a perfect bunt,” Pratt said. “And then Miller throws that hand grenade into left field. It might have been the softest game-winning hit I’ve ever seen, but it had perfect placement.”

Pitching was a big part of the win. The Hoppers survived eight walks but limited the Shorebirds to six hits.

Starter Ethan Clark pitched 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball before giving up a solo homer to Jake Ring. Kyle Keller battled his way through three innings, giving up the game-tying run, but working out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning with no runs allowed. Nestor Bautista finished with two perfect innings to get the win.

“Clark walked five but he worked around them,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “He made pitches when he needed to. Keller didn’t have his best stuff, but I like to see someone go out and compete when it’s like that. Bautista has been lights-out. He threw 17 pitches tonight, 14 for strikes.”

Bautista was with the Hoppers briefly in 2015, then had surgery on a muscle that pulled away from the bone and had to be reattached. He barely pitched last season but is finally healthy again.

“I have this great love for baseball and I had it in my mind during rehab that I “would play again,” Bautista said.
“I’m going to cherish every moment and every opportunity.”

The left-hander struck out two in two innings, using his slider effectively.

“Against left-handed hitters I start it inside and it breaks away from them,” he explained.

Michael King gets the start for the third game of the series Thursday night. The Hoppers have taken the first two games by one run each.

“Hopefully they won’t all be that close,” Miller said. “But winning games like this can help you down the road, not only for the season but in your career.”

NOTES: Micah Brown, whose single won Tuesday’s game, drove in the first Greensboro run and Cabrera doubled home the second … Miller became the eighth player in the SAL to hit four doubles in a game on Tuesday … Reliever Parker Bugg was put on the DL with a forearm strain … To fill the roster opening, left-hander Carlos Diaz was promoted from the Gulf Coast League … Diaz played two years in Cleveland’s system, was released in 2014 and was out of baseball for three seasons before joining an independent team and then signing with the Marlins.