Chiefs beat the Clippers, 6-1
COLUMBUS—One bad inning went a long way in determining the fate of the Columbus Clippers Thursday night.
Columbus (19-21) fell to the Syracuse Chiefs, 6-1, for the second time in three games in front of 8,115 fans at Huntington Park. Syracuse scored five of its six runs in the top of the second inning.
Clippers’ right-hander Paolo Espino had a rough outing, lasting only four innings after a poor second inning. Espino (0-1) gave up seven hits, five of which came in the five-run second.
At the plate, Columbus had trouble stringing hits together off Syracuse right-hander Mitch Atkins and the Chiefs’ bullpen. Of the five knocks the Clippers managed, none were in the same inning.
Left fielder Matt LaPorta was the lone bright spot for Columbus, going 2-for-4 with two singles up the middle. Last night’s contest might have been one of LaPorta’s last in Columbus this season. With Akron left-fielder Jared Goedert being assigned to the Clippers, a LaPorta call up to Cleveland seems likely.
LaPorta’s departure would take away part of the veteran presence that has made Columbus one of Triple-A’s premier teams over the past few seasons. That presence, though, hasn’t seemed to do much lately, as the Clippers have lost seven of their last nine games, and are currently three games back of IL West Division leader Indianapolis.
“You can’t put your finger on it,” Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh said. “You have the night that we did last night, and tonight we couldn’t get our bats together. I see our club as the game goes on, everybody tries to do a little bit too much.”
Espino’s performance in the top of the second inning certainly didn’t help.
After an easy top of the first inning in which Espino faced only three batters, nine Chiefs’ reached the plate in the second, with five of them scoring.
Designated hitter Jim Negrych crushed a two-run home run onto the porch in right field. Espino was able to retire catcher James Skelton with one out and two runners on, but a double off the wall in right-center field by left fielder Corey Brown and a single down the left-field line by shortstop Josh Johnson followed, bringing home three more runs.
What Syracuse did in the second—hit, after hit, after hit—Columbus didn’t. Sarbaugh said his team got away from what they were supposed to do at the plate.
“(We) have to stay within our plan. I think sometimes we get too aggressive and try to force the issue,” he said.
The Columbus sun played a major role in the Clippers’ scoring their lone run.
After second baseman Cord Phelps reached second base on an errant throw, designated hitter Beau Mills hit a line drive to left field. The sun, still creeping over the Huntington Park sign behind the home plate stands, caused Brown to lose sight of the ball. Mills liner dropped about five feet in front of Brown, allowing Phelps to score on the play.
Columbus’ bullpen did its job for the third night in a row.
Left-hander Scott Barnes and right-hander’s Matt Langwell and Chris Ray combined to throw five-scoreless innings after Espino left the game. The last time a Clippers’ reliever gave up a run—more than 13 innings ago—was in a 5-3 win at Pawtucket on May 14.
Sarbaugh said having a bullpen that can come in and shut down opposing hitters is a major plus. The reason for the good performances, according to Sarbaugh, is the fact that his relievers are focused on the game, even when they’re not pitching.
“I think they’re paying attention to the game and when they get in the game they know how to attack the hitters,”
Columbus and Syracuse will play the finale of a four-game series on Friday at 7:05 p.m. at Huntington Park. With a win, the Clippers would split the set.