Steve Johnson tied his career-high with 10 strikeouts and Norfolk held off a late Durham rally to knock off the Bulls 3-2 in front of 8,251 fans Sunday night at Harbor Park.
Johnson combined with Chris Jones and Jairo Asencio in the victory, helping Norfolk remain atop the IL Wild Card standings heading to the final day of the regular season. The Tides are one game ahead of Rochester, who kept pace with Norfolk by knocking off Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 3-2 earlier Sunday.
With a magic number of one, Norfolk would clinch a Wild Card berth with a victory Monday or a Rochester loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If the Tides were to lose and Rochester would win, the Red Wings would claim the tiebreaker by virtue of their season series victory over Norfolk. The Tides take on Durham at 12:05, while Rochester hosts the RailRiders beginning at 1:05.
Johnson (2-3) was tremendous in picking up his first victory for Norfolk since May 6. He allowed just two hits and two walks in 6.1 innings, with six of his 10 strikeouts coming on a called third strike. It was the sixth time Johnson has registered 10 punchouts in his minor league career, with the most recent occurrence coming on July 20, 2010 while with Double-A Bowie.
After Chris Jones retired all five batters he faced in relief of Johnson, Jairo Asencio escaped a major threat in the ninth to earn his league-leading 28th save of the season. Cole Figueroa led off the final frame with an infield single off the first base bag, and Brandon Guyer followed with a potential double play grounder to shortstop Yamaico Navarro. Navarro's throw to second base was high, however, allowing Figueroa to score on the play and Guyer to advaance to third with nobody out. Asencio escaped further damage by striking out pinch-hitter Evan Frey before retiring Jason Bourgeois and Tim Beckham on groundouts to help the Tides wrap up their third straight win.
The Tides took an early lead in the first, as Chris Dickerson led off the contest with a double before coming around to score on a sacrifice fly by Dan Johnson. After the Bulls tied the score in the second frame, Norfolk took the lead for good in the fifth on an RBI double by Yamaico Navarro. The Tides extended their lead in the sixth on an RBI double by Jonathan Schoop.
Notes: The start of the game was delayed two hours due to rain…The Tides did not record a defensive assist while Steve Johnson was in the game, as Johnson registered 10 strikeouts and nine flyouts… Norfolk has now won four straight over Durham to lead the season series 11-10…The Tides are aiming to make their first playoff appearance since 2005, when Norfolk won the IL South division with a 79-65 record.