Lucas delivers late in Scrappers 5-4 win
NILES - Just a night after Eastwood Field played host to the NYPL All-Star Game, it served as the battleground for a the Scrappers and Auburn Doubledays. The big crowd and large media presence were gone, but those that turned up to watch the teams continue their respective regular seasons saw a dandy, as they watched the Scrappers just edge the Doubledays in what was a nip-and-tuck 5-4 affair.
Ryan Merrit got the start for Mahoning Valley, looking to rebound after getting tagged for five-runs in his last outing. He got into a big jam right away, allowing two base hits and a walk to load the bases with two outs in the first. He was able to get a strikeout to wiggle out of trouble and keep the opposition off the board.
He wasn’t so lucky in the second. He allowed a one-out single to Narciso Mesa, who they had hung out to dry on a stolen base attempt. Shortstop Jairo Kelly couldn’t haul in Merrit’s throw, however, as Mesa was able to advance all the way to third. Auburn made it hurt, cashing in on the gifted opportunity with a sacrifice fly to draw first blood.
The second inning was even better for the Scrappers, as they drew their first blood to the tune of four runs. Joe Sever led off the action with a double and was immediately singled home by Jeremy Lucas. After a groundout, Juan Romero delivered with an RBI single of his own to give his team their first lead at 2-1. Then came the big blow, as Erik Gonzalez unloaded on a no-doubter to left field to extend the lead to 4-1. The homer was Gonzalez’s first of the year.
In the top of the third, Auburn again got the benefit of a Scrapper miscue, as Robel Garcia couldn’t get a handle on a leadoff dribbler that put a runner on. With one out Estarlin Martinez then singled to put runners at the corners. Like he did in the first, Merrit was able to keep the Auburn offense at bay, getting a strikeout and groundout to emerge unscathed.
While the Scapper offense remained largely silent save for a few scattered hits, the Auburn offense continued to force the issue. In the fifth Merrit issues a one out walk followed by a single to put runners at first and second. That would do it for Merrit, as he was pulled in favor of Robbie Aviles out of the bullpen. Aviles got halfway to getting out of the jam with a flyout, but then allowed a controversial double down the line that appeared foul but was ruled fair by home plate umpire Mike Wiseman. That double allowed a second run to score for Auburn, bringing the tally to 4-2.
Auburn added a run in the sixth when Carlos Lopez crushed a homerun to left field off of Aviles to make it 4-3. Then in the eighth, James Stokes came in to try and hold the slim lead. He walked his first batter and allowed a single to put himself at a severe disadvantage with no outs. He was able to record a strikeout, but was relieved by Jack Wagoner, who hoped to escape the jam he entered into. He got one out, but then surrounded a single to pinch-hitter Craig Manuel that drove home the game-tying run.
It seemed at that point that all the momentum the Scrappers had gained by their big second inning had been sucked away by Auburn’s nickel-and-diming. But the offense that had laid dormant for five innings was finally revived in the bottom half of the eighth. Joey Wendle, who had been hitless to that point, fisted a ball that dropped in just beyond the reach of the shortstop and just in front of the left fielder with one out to give the Scrappers a base runner.
“Obviously it’s big to stay in the game,” said Wendle. “Their pitcher came up big in recovering from his not-so-good second inning. For batters and position players, it’s important to just stay in the game, and I think we did a good job doing that and getting quality at-bats.”
Then, after a groundout moved Wendle to second, the one hitter in the Scrapper lineup that Auburn didn’t want to see stepped to the plate. That was Jeremy Lucas, who to that point was 3-for-3, with a double and an RBI, although that double was later changed to an error. Lucas hasn’t had a lot of time behind the dish this year, with Charlie Valerio seeing most of the action. But this night he got a start as Valerio was hampered by a shoulder issue.
“Luckily I got a chance to paly today,” Said Lucas with a grin after the game. “It’s always in the back of my mind, but I try not to think about it. I come to the ballpark everyday thinking I’m going to play, and if I’m not it makes me work harder. If I am, I’ve got to make the most of it. But I try to play relaxed and not put too much pressure on myself.”
Even if he didn’t put it on himself, the pressure of the situation was certainly palpable. The Scrappers had already used four pitchers, and the prospect of extra innings was looming. But Lucas was the hot hand. He was the only Scrapper to reach after the second before Wendle, and the Auburn bench knew it. They even brought in a fresh arm to pitch to him. It didn’t help, however, as Lucas drilled a ball to dead left-center that landed for an RBI double to push across the go-ahead run.
“I was just trying to see what he was focusing on,” Lucas said. “I really didn’t think they were going to throw me much to hit. He threw me a couple sliders and I was looking for another off-speed pitch in a 1-1 count. I got my foot down and saw spin, so I waited back and luckily got my hands through and got a ball in the gap.”
The hit proved to be a game-winner, as Jack Wagoner was able to nail down the ninth inning to secure the win. Wagoner was charged with the blown save, but also picked up the win, while Auburn reliever Cody Davis took the loss.
The Scrappers will now look to parlay the big win into a little momentum. Entering tonight Auburn held a six game lead on the Scrappers in the Pickney Division. With the win it moves them to only five behind, with a chance to pick up another game tomorrow.
“It’s getting to be crunch time late in the season,” said Wendle. “We have a chance to play two of the teams who are ahead of us in the division, so these are some crucial games. If we can start winning some, it can start to turn around pretty quick.”
That other team is Batavia, who the Scrappers will see after Auburn. They will finish up their set with the Doubledays tomorrow night at 7:05.