Salem, VA- With a rare hiccup by the bullpen, the Wilmington Blue Rocks (5-7) saw a four-run lead dwindle and then evaporate in the ninth inning. The Salem Red Sox (8-5) scored two runs in the final frame to take a 6-5 walk-off win at Hayley Toyota Field Tuesday night. Wilmington's shortstop Nicky Lopez finished the game with a career-high four hits, including two doubles, and drove in a run in the loss.
Heading to the ninth inning leading 5-4, the Blue Rocks relied on their very strong bullpen to hold on to the win. However, Salem rallied in their last at-bats, using small ball to manufacture the tying and winning runs against Yunior Marte (0-1). After a leadoff single from Austin Rei put the tying-run on base and a sacrifice bunt advanced the runner to scoring position, Denier Lopez singled to centerfield to score Rei. On the throw to home, Lopez moved to second base. During the next at-bat, Lopez stole third before Chad De La Guerra lofted a fly ball to center field to score Lopez for the game-winning run.
The Blue Rocks scored early and often through the first three frames. Anderson Miller tripled home Lopez in the first to take an early 1-0 lead. Salem took advantage of a D.J. Burt throwing error which tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the inning. In the second inning, Nathan Esposito singled home Travis Maezes to give the Rocks a 2-1 lead. Later in the frame, Lopez roped a double to score Esposito to make it 3-1. Wilmington added another pair of runs in the third, courtesy of a Chase Vallot RBI double and Roman Collins single to take a 5-1 lead.
However, the potent Salem offense chipped away. The Red Sox scored two runs of their own in the third inning to make it a 5-3 game and tacked on a single tally in the fifth to pull within a run before the ninth inning rally. Wilmington's start Scott Blewett earned a no-decision and worked six innings, allowed three earned runs on five hits and struck out six.
Wilmington will look to salvage the series on Wednesday, April 19 in the series finale. LHP Emilio Ogando (1-0, 7.20 ERA) takes the hill for the Blue Rocks while RHP Roniel Raudes (0-1, 6.43 ERA) gets the nod for the Red Sox. Fans can listen to the game as Matt Janus will have the call on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
Pebbles of Knowledge
The bullpen for the Blue Rocks has been the strongest asset on the team and arguably the best in the Carolina League. However, the bullpen uncharacteristically surrendered late-inning runs and was unable to preserve the lead. Marte entered the game looking for his second save of the season and did not allow a run in his first three appearances of the season (6 1/3 innings). It was the first loss for the Rocks when leading after eight innings and the second blown save for the bullpen.
Lopez continues to be the catalyst the Blue Rocks expected at the top of the order. He cashed in a four-hit performance, which set a single-game high for the shortstop. With his four hits, he now owns the longest-active hitting streak on the team at eight games. Both Roman Collins and Wander Franco has eight-gamers but both had their streaks snapped on this week-long road trip. Lopez has also been the toughest batter to strikeout in the Carolina League, as he leads the league with the best total plate appearances to strikeout ratio.
In addition to his four-hit night, Lopez extended his on-base streak to 12 games. That ties Roman Collins and D.J. Burt who each extended their streaks Tuesday night with a hit and walk, respectively. Lopez (11 hits/7 walks) and Collins (12 hits/5 walks) have elongated their on-base streaks with hits more so then walks. Burt on the other hand, has used a keen eye to quietly extend his streak (7 hits/11 walks). Burt is no stranger to on-base streaks. In 2015, he had a 68-game on-base streak that spanned the 2015 campaign, postseason and eight games into 2016.
The walk-off loss on Tuesday night was the first walk-off defeat for Wilmington since July 6, 2016 at Potomac. The Blue Rocks have now played in eight one-run games through their first 12 contests. Unfortunately for Wilmington, they have been on the wrong side of five of the last eight single tally affairs.
THEY SAID IT: Jamie Quirk
"We'll talk to them about adding runs on. We had a chance to get a couple extra runs and didn't do it. A couple runners on third and moving runners over, situational hitting. It kind of bit us late when you have a chance to add on you can bury a team. We kept them in the game and they got us in the ninth."
"He (Yunior Marte) had the leadoff guy get a base hit and then they bunt him over. He hung a breaking ball to Denier Lopez who tied the game. Elier's (Hernandez) throw was high (at home) which allowed the winning run to get to second and that put Marte in a stressful situation. His stuff wasn't as sharp as it has been. You're going to have days like that. He's a power pitcher and he got beat with the soft stuff. I'd rather have him challenge hitters and say you have to beat me with my stuff. The base hit was a breaking ball and the last one was I believe a changeup. He has to use his fastball, that's his bread and butter and he got away from it tonight."
On Hernandez trying to make it up defensively for his struggles at the plate: "Probably. We had no chance throwing the guy out. You have to understand the situation of the game. They tied it, keep your composure and throw it to second base and keep the double play in order and go from there. He probably tried to do too much when there wasn't something there at all."
"We'll show up tomorrow and I'm expecting us to play well. I thought we played well tonight. I thought (Scott) Blewett hung in there and finished strong. Of course (Jake) Kalish was very good. Offensively we have to cash in, but I'm not worried about tomorrow."
On Lopez: "He's as advertised. He's a baseball player and he's doing everything we were told he could do. Four hits tonight, runs the bases well and plays shortstop well. He's doing well and it's good to see."
25 Years of Blue Rocks Baseball
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.