Carlina Mudcats split doubleheader with Frederick Keys
ZEBULON, N.C. – The Carolina Mudcats lost the first game of a doubleheader with the Frederick Keys, 4-3, before winning the second, 2-1. With both teams winning one game, the teams split the series at two games each.
Mudcats manager Scooter Tucker said he was pleased with his teams’ performance in both games.
“We got some timely hits and made some nice plays,” Tucker said. “We got a great pitching performance from (Ryan) Merritt in game two and some good bullpen pitching in the first game.”
After all of the action in the top half of the sixth inning in game two that included a balk and two ejections, the Mudcats (10-8) came right back to take the lead in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, shortstop Erik Gonzalez tripled to right field and catcher Jeremy Lucas drove him in with an RBI double to left field.
Tucker had nothing but good things to say about Lucas’ performance behind the plate and his game-winning hit.
“Jeremy called a great game behind the plate and wanted to catch a shutout,” said Tucker. “That was a great hit he got to drive in Gonzalez for the win.”
Lucas said it felt good to drive in the game-winning run after the emotion from the top half of the inning.
“I had to keep my cool a little bit, but I came up in a good situation after Gonzalez got the big hit in front of me,” he said.
Merritt said a lot of things were working well for him and his team played a great game behind him.
“My fastball command was working great tonight,” said Merritt. “I just felt comfortable up on the mound today. I just go out there every fifth game and try to give my team a chance to win. It’s always fun to go a complete game. I’m glad I could keep my pitch count down and keep them off the bases.”
Carolina struck first in the third inning to take the early lead.
First baseman Charlie Valerio led off the inning with a double off the wall in right field. With one out, right fielder Ollie Linton lined an RBI double down the left-field line to drive in Valerio and give the Mudcats a 1-0 lead.
Frederick (8-10) threatened for the first time in the fifth inning with back-to-back two out singles, but a groundout to Gonzalez ended the threat with runners at first and second.
A wild sixth inning allowed the Keys to tie the game. With one out, a bloop single to left field put a runner on first base. The next batter flew out to left field, but after tagging first base, the runner continued running to third base on a throwing error by left fielder Luigi Rodriguez. With the runner on third, a balk was called to bring in the tying run.
After the balk was called, Tucker and pitching coach Steve Karsay came out of the dugout to argue the call, leading to his ejection. After the inning was completed, Valerio began talking with the umpire about the call and was also ejected.
“I’m still not 100 percent sure what was called, but the umpire said he’d been doing a little twitch for a while,” said Tucker. “They hadn’t given us a warning about it, and their dugout had been calling for it for quite some time. I wish I had seen it, but I’m just taking his word for it.”
Lucas also questioned the call and was also not quite sure why it was called.
“I think he was kind of goaded into it,” said Lucas. “It affected the game, but luckily we were able to come out on top.”
Frederick took game one 4-3 after scoring all four runs in the first two innings and holding Carolina from tying the game on multiple occasions.
Right hander Michael Peoples got the start in game one and struggled mightily. Peoples only went three innings, giving up four runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Peoples took the loss, falling to 0-1 on the season.
Tucker was not concerned with Peoples start, but said he was struggling with his command from the beginning.
“He just was having trouble getting the ball down and in the zone,” said Tucker. “He was keeping the ball up and in the zone. He’d been off for a few extra days after we bumped his start back, so he just wasn’t quite as sharp as normal.”
The first pitch of the afternoon was ripped to deep left field for a triple, and a deep sacrifice fly to center field brought the runner home for a 1-0 Frederick lead.
After the Mudcats put two runners on base with one reaching third in the bottom of the first, the Keys put two more runs on the board in the second inning.
A walk followed by a throwing error by second baseman Todd Hankins put runners on second and third with no outs. A single to center field brought both runners home for the three run lead. With one out, another single and a wild pitch put runners on second and third. An RBI groundout brought in the runner from third for a 4-0 lead.
After trading scoreless frames, the Mudcats started a rally to make a game of it. Back-to-back singles by third baseman James Roberts and right fielder Torsten Boss to lead off the inning put runners on the corners. Hankins hit a sacrifice fly to center field to bring Roberts across the plate for the Mudcats first run of the day.
Boss stole second base, and came around to score on an RBI double by Gonzalez. A wild pitch allowed Gonzalez to take third base and an RBI single by designated hitter Jeremy Lucas brought him home to cut the lead to one after three innings.
Hard throwing righty Carlos Melo relieved Peoples in the fourth inning and continued to build on his recent strong outings going two innings giving up only one hit. Right hander Grant Sides relieved Melo in the sixth
Carolina got the tying run on base with a one-out single by Roberts, but Boss hit into a game ending double play.
The Mudcats return to action on Wednesday when they travel to Wilmington, DE to face the Blue Rocks for the first time in 2014. Right hander Cole Sulser gets the start for Carolina.
NOTE: With hits in each game, Gonzalez’s hitting streak extended to 14 games.
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.