COLUMBUS – For much of the game, it looked like it would be another story of offensive struggles at Huntington Park. Luckily, the defense kept it close enough just in case the bats decided to heat up. And heat up they did.
The Columbus Clippers (36-40) came from behind to beat the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (43-31) on Saturday by a final score of 3-2. After being down 2-0 for much of the game, an eighth inning home run and a ninth inning IronPigs error gave the Clippers a much-needed walk-off win.
After a couple uneventful frames, the IronPigs first made life difficult for Clippers starter Zach McAllister (5-2, 2.98 ERA) in the third inning, as they got three straight singles to load the bases with nobody out. McAllister was able to get out of the jam with only minimal damage done, as he forced Lehigh Valley third baseman Pete Orr to ground out into a double play. While it brought a run in to make it 1-0, it also eliminated much of the IronPigs’ momentum.
This inability to capitalize on such opportunities was something that plagued both teams, but it ultimately worked to the Clippers’ advantage. The IronPigs had multiple chances to blow the game open, but were never able to get the huge inning they were looking for. Their first two hitters were able to get aboard in the third, fourth and fifth innings, but they could only muster two total runs in that stretch on eight hits.
Lehigh Valley’s second run came on a risky bunt play by second baseman Kevin Frandsen. With two outs and a runner on third, he laid down a bunt toward the pitcher’s mound. McAllister couldn’t make the play, and it paid off to give the IronPigs a 2-0 lead in the fifth.
The biggest issue for the Clippers early was that they didn’t have many offensive opportunities to begin with, and the biggest reason for this was the sharp performance of Lehigh Valley starter Tyler Cloyd (7-1, 2.17 ERA). In his first career start against Columbus, Cloyd went six strong innings and allowed no runs on four hits and two walks. He only registered one strikeout, but his biggest weapon was the flyout, of which he forced eight.
Despite the shutout work by Cloyd, he threw a lot of pitches and the Clippers were able to get to the bullpen early. For Clippers manager Mike Sarbaugh, this didn’t necessarily make matters easier.
“They’ve got some good arms coming out of the bullpen,” Sarbaugh said. “Luckily for us we were able to score a couple and give ourselves a chance to win it there in the ninth.”
The Clippers finally broke through in a big way in the eighth inning. Right fielder Trevor Crowe singled to begin the inning, then two batters later LaPorta launched his sixteenth home run of the year into left field to tie the game at two. After seven innings with not a whole lot going on, it was a whole new ballgame with one swing of the bat.
“Right there you’re just looking for a hit,” Sarbaugh said. “That’s why it can surprise you when something like that happens.”
After Clippers pitcher Chris Ray got through the top of the ninth, the offense had a chance to win it in walk-off fashion. They would go on to do so without registering a hit. Catcher Luke Carlin was walked by IronPigs pitcher Phillippe Aumont, and then he quickly moved to second on a wild pitch. Victory would then come in bizarre fashion, as center fielder Ezequiel Carrera hit a grounder to second that was misplayed by Frandsen. The ball bounced into the outfield and Carlin ran home to seal the deal.
For Sarbaugh, this win was the kind of victory the Clippers haven’t seen much of this year.
“We had a little luck on our side tonight,” Sarbaugh said. “We haven’t had that.”
The Clippers and IronPigs will play game three of their four-game set on Sunday evening at 6:05 p.m.