It only seemed like the wind was blowing out at Hickory's L.P. Frans Stadium Tuesday morning.
Though visiting Savannah was out-homered by the host Crawdads, 5-3, the Sand Gnats prevailed on the scoreboard in a 9-6 victory. Leadoff man Eudy Pina led the way for Savannah with two long balls, a double and four RBIs. The two clubs split their four-game set with two wins apiece.
Pina set the tone for the contest at the very start, going deep in the first at-bat of the game despite the 2 mph whisper blowing in from left. Hickory responded in the home half of the second as second baseman Ryan Rua and first baseman Jorge Alfaro went back-to-back to give the Crawdads a 2-1 edge.
Alfaro, MLB.com's No. 83 prospect, added a second longball in the fifth. The 19-year-old Colombian native, ranked fifth in the Rangers system, is experiencing a power surge in his second campaign with the Crawdads -- after hitting five homers in 74 games last year, he already has eight in 30 games this season, including four in his last four games.
Primarily a catcher, Alfaro has played first base in just seven games thus far but has hit five of his eight home runs in those outings.
Pina put the Sand Gnats back in front with a two-run shot in the third, then delivered a two-out RBI double in the fourth.
Hickory continued to respond with longballs -- center fielder Lewis Brinson went deep in the fifth before right fielder Jordan Akins homered in the eighth -- but each of the Crawdads' five homers came with the bases empty. Hickory went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 11 times on the day.
Conspicuously absent from Hickory's home run parade was third baseman Joey Gallo, who leads the Sally League with 10 blasts. Gallo went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and an RBI groundout.
The game was an ideal example of Hickory's all-or-nothing approach at the plate this season: the Crawdads have hit nearly twice as many home runs (53) as any other team in the league (Asheville is second with 27; Augusta is last with six) but also rank first in strikeouts with 320 in 31 games. The team's .308 on-base percentage is 12th-best in the 14-team league and the club has drawn the SAL's second-fewest walks (85).
Savannah went ahead for good with a run in the sixth on Jayce Boyd's two-out single and tacked on three insurance runs in the seventh, capped by light-hitting shortstop Phillip Evans' first homer of the season. Evans, batting ninth, went 3-for-4, drew a walk and scored four times.
Akins' eighth-inning homer for the Crawdads was the first run allowed by Savannah reliever Beck Wheeler this season. Coming into Tuesday's game, the 24-year-old right-hander had pitched 11 2/3 scoreless frames over seven appearances, allowing just one hit and one walk while fanning 16.
Wheeler surrendered a double to Joe Maloney after Akins' leadoff blast, but set down the next three Crawdads in order -- two via strikeout.
Bret Mitchell worked around a pair of two-out walks in a scoreless ninth to earn his fourth save for the Sand Gnats.
Savannah starter Gabriel Ynoa improved to 4-2 despite yielding five runs on eight hits -- four of them home runs -- over five frames. He struck out four and did not walk a batter. Crawdads reliever Jose Leclerc (0-2) took the loss, giving up three runs (one earned) on three hits in 1 2/3 innings.
Both teams have an off-day Wednesday before embarking on a string of 25 games over their next 25 days. Their next scheduled off-day is June 3.