Neal delivers walkoff hit in 6-5 Aeros win
Akron, OH -- Aeros left fielder Thomas Neal hit a walk-off single with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, as Akron beat Harrisburg, 6-5.
With the win, Akron (58-39) swept the Senators while increasing their winning streak to six games. Harrisburg (49-48) dropped their fifth consecutive game and dropped to third place in the Eastern League Western Division.
“The guys are playing really well in the last several weeks,” said Akron Aeros manager Chris Tremie. “The time in the season where we were losing some games, that is part of the season unfortunately.
“You want to win every game, you try to win every game but in reality those times are going to come -- you just have to get out of them as quick as you can.”
Harrisburg jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after designated hitter Chris Rahl hit a three-run homer off Aeros starter Steven Wright. The Senators added a run in the fourth inning on a Jose Lozada RBI single to make it 4-0.
Wright pitched five innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks. He struck out three Harrisburg batters, but allowed his fifth home run in six starts.
“I think with the knuckleball, you’re going to give up home runs,” said Tremie. “Hopefully you don’t give up too many, but when the ball doesn’t do exactly what you want to do, you take that chance. Today’s outing is not one of [Wright’s] best outings, but he still went out there and gave us five innings.”
Toru Murata and Loek van Mil followed Wright with three innings of effective relief. Murata gave up the second Senators dinger of the day in the sixth. Van Mil followed Murata with two quiet innings of relief, allowing just one hit while striking out one.
Rob Bryson (4-1, 2.51) got the win for Akron after pitching a scoreless ninth inning.
The Aeros offense got on the board with three runs in the fourth on the strength of a two-run double from third baseman Ryan Rohlinger. First baseman Adam Abraham drove home Rohlinger on a double of his own, pulling the Aeros within one run.
After a homer by Harrisburg in the top of the sixth, the Aeros again clawed within one run. Neal led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on another single by shortstop Juan Diaz. Neal scored on a double play ball hit by Rohlinger.
Neither team scored again until the bottom of the ninth. Senators closer Hector Nelo (1-4, 2.15) struggled with his command throughout the inning, walking the bases loaded with two outs. With designated hitter Nick Weglarz at the plate, Nelo walked in the tying run before being replaced by Rafael Martin.
With the bases loaded again, Neal came to the plate and took two breaking balls for strikes to fall behind in the count. After working the count full, Neal hit a game-winning single over the second baseman, finishing the day 3-for-4, with two runs scored, an RBI and a walk.
“[Neal]’s been very consistent in a lot of big situations for about two and a half months now,” said Tremie. “Another pitcher came in and he didn’t get overly-aggressive. He worked a great count, 3-2, and then he was able to stay on a pitch that was a tough pitch to hit.”
Neal had struggled throughout the homestand with just two hits and seven strikeouts in six games, but rebounded after changing up his game plan at the plate.
“My main goal was to stay up the middle,” said Neal. “This whole homestand I’ve been kind of pulling off the ball a little bit. I just took a deep breath and told myself to stick with my approach.
“The more pitches I see, the more comfortable I get up at the plate. It’s just a matter of sticking to your gameplan. They’re going to make a mistake, you just have to hit it.”
The Aeros will leave to begin a short four-game road trip at Richmond. Thursday’s game will begin at 7:05 p.m. and will feature lefty Chris Gloor (2-2, 3.51) pitching for Richmond against a yet-to-be-announced starter for Akron.
Notes: Harrisburg starter Ryan Perry allowed four runs (one earned), lowering his ERA to 1.63. … Roberto Perez has 23 passed balls on the season, mostly due to catching knuckleballer Steven Wright. … Announced attendance: 2,956.
Nathan Kemp graduated from The University of Akron in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. He plans to pursue a graduate degree through NEOMFA in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @NathanCKemp.