There were many accomplishments that were celebrated throughout the first 70 games of the 2017 slate. We take a look at some of the biggest moments and games of the first half.
The opening month of the season brought excitement and optimism back to the Riverfront as the Blue Crew were back in town for another season. However, Mother Nature forced the Blue Rocks faithful to wait one more day for the season to start as the season opener was rained out on April 6. The wet weather didn't damper the Rocks mindset and they treated the patient fans to a 6-2 win the following night over the Potomac Nationals. Foster Griffin tossed five innings and allowed just one run on two hits while Roman Collins smashed a home run in the win.
Unfortunately, the following three games would be the beginning of a setting theme for the Blue Rocks for the month of April. They dropped their next three games by a single run before earning their second win of the season on April 11 against Carolina. However, the one-run mantra would continue throughout the first month of the season. The Rocks were competitive in April, but were the recipients of tough breaks and heart-breaking losses.
The Rocks would post their longest winning streak of the season at the time when they took the last three games of a four-game series against Potomac from April 14-16. The series finale included an 11-inning win for the Rocks when Jonathan McCray hit the go-ahead RBI double in the final inning to give Wilmington their first extra-inning victory of the season.
April continued to be a roller coaster ride for Wilmington. After splitting a series with Winston-Salem, in which Elier Hernandez hit .545 and clobbered three doubles, a home run and drove in six runs, the Rocks would unknowingly suffer their longest losing streak of the season. After dropping the second game of a doubleheader to the Dash 1-0 in 11 innings on April 23, the Blue Crew suffered a six-game skid, falling to 7-15 on April 29. The Blue Rocks did snap out of their slide with a 5-2 win at Buies Creek on the last day of the month. In the victory, Anderson Miller highlighted a four-run, ninth inning with a go-ahead solo homer to earn the win.
In their 23 games to open up the 2017 campaign, the Rocks played in an astounding 13 one-run games, going 4-9 in such contests. The Rocks finished with an 8-15 record and were in fifth place in the Northern Division.
The Blue Crew was certainly happy to see the calendar flip to May. Putting the tough opening month behind them, the Rocks started to turn their season around. Although they suffered another one-run loss to start May against Salem in a 4-3, 10-inning loss, the Blue Rocks bounced back and hammered Salem 10-2 on May 2. It was the most runs scored by the Rocks in a single-game at the time. Hernandez had a big game, clubbing three extra-base hits while Nicky Lopez drove in three runs. Two days later, the Blue Rocks pounded the Down East Wood Ducks 10-0 and smashed a season-high 20 hits. Second baseman D.J. Burt and third baseman Travis Maezes collected four hits in the game. On May 7, the offense was at it again, launching a season-high four home runs and used a six-run ninth inning to earn a 10-4 win over Down East Later that week, Hernandez was named Carolina League Player of the Week for May 1-7, becoming the first Blue Rock player to win the weekly award in 2017.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks continued to play consistent baseball. Never losing more than three games in a row in the entire month, the Blue Rocks steadily were getting back to .500 baseball. On May 10, the Rocks walked-off Potomac in the second game of a doubleheader when Maezes delivered with a game-winning two-run single to stun the P-Nats, 4-3. The win put the Blue Rocks within five games of .500 at 14-19.
The good times kept rolling for Wilmington as they posted a four-game winning streak from May 12-15 with a series sweep over Frederick and a series opening win against Potomac. During that week, Miller was named the Carolina League Player of the Week for May 8-14, making Wilmington the second team in the circuit to have back-to-back Players of the Week.
On May 15, the Rocks won 2-0 over Potomac, but the highlight of the game was Miller, who extended his league-leading on-base streak to an impressive 30 games. Although Miller did not reach base in the following game, the 30-gamer still stands as the longest on-base streak in the league this season and is tied for the fourth-longest on-base streak in the CL in the last three years. It also fell shy by just three games of tying the Blue Rocks franchise record set by Eric Hosmer in 2010 when he reached in 33 consecutive games.
The Rocks continued to climb towards sea-level and reached it on May 22 with a dominant 10-2 win over the Frederick Keys. Righty A.J. Puckett tossed six no-hit innings en route to his fifth win of the season while Lopez, Miller, Wander Franco and Chase Vallot all homered in the affair. The win put Wilmingotn at .500 for the first time since April 16. Wilmington followed up a day later with a 3-0 win against Lynchburg to push past the .500 mark for the first time since Opening Day.
Wilmington had a handful of players promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas including Griffin, the Opening Day starter, pitchers Emilio Ogando, Jake Kalish, Jared Ruxer and Hernandez. The Blue Crew finished the month of May with an 18-11 record, tied for the second-best record in the league for the month. With an overall record of 26-26 the Rocks moved up to third place in the Division and were just six games out of first place.
With the Blue Rocks in the midst of the playoff hunt, June was the most exciting month of the first half of the season. Wilmington got off to a torrid start, going 6-1 in the first week of the third month of the campaign. That week also featured historic performances and miraculous comebacks. On June 2 at Winston-Salem, first baseman Chris DeVito hit for the cycle, becoming the first player in the Carolina League this year to do so. He hit back-to-back home runs with Brandon Downes in the sixth inning to complete the offensive feat. He became the first Blue Rock since Dee Brown to hit for the cycle when Brown accomplished it back on April 18, 1999 at Myrtle Beach.
Arguably the most thrilling win of the first half came on June 6on the road at Down East. Down 2-0 in the ninth inning, the Rocks swatted three home runs in the inning courtesy of Cody Jones who got the Rocks on the board, Vallot who tied it, and Maezes put the Rocks ahead in the eventual 3-2 win. Two days later, the Rocks outlasted the Buies Creek Astros in 15 innings as Collins delivered a game-winning RBI double to give the Blue Rocks a 4-3 thrilling win. The game was the longest of the season for the Blue Rocks in innings and time of play at five hours and two minutes.
Wilmington unfortunately was eliminated from playoff contention on June 13 after a 5-2 loss in game one of a doubleheader against the Lynchburg Hillcats. Although they were no longer playing for a division title, the Rocks ended the first half with one of the most dominant finishes in team history. The Blue Rocks rebounded from the loss with a 2-1 win in the second game of the doubleheader.
Unknowingly, the Blue Rocks pitching staff would start an impressive scoreless innings streak in that game. After Yunior Marte allowed a run with one out in the first inning, the hurlers for the Rocks dazzled on the mound and strung together 35 scoreless innings, falling three frames shy of tying a franchise record which was set from June 7-12, 2009. The stretch included three consecutive shutout victories for Wilmington with a 9-0 win at Lynchburg before blanking Salem 8-0 and 7-0 on June 15 and 16. The streak came to an end in game one of a doubleheader on Father's Day against Salem in the second inning when the Sox scored a run.
Although the streak was over, the Blue Rocks dominated their competition in the final week of the half. During their current six-game winning streak, the Rocks have outscored their opponents 34-2 and have allowed just the pair of runs in 48 total innings of play. The pitching staff has yielded a remarkable 0.38 ERA in that span. Wilmington finished the first 18 days of June with an incredible 13-5 record. Since their 8-15 start to the season, the Rocks are 31-16 in their last 47 games.
As a unit, Wilmington finished in the top-five in the Carolina League in triples (1st, 33) hits (2nd, 599), batting average (3rd, .256), walks (3rd, 255) and on-base percentage (5th, .333). On the mound, the Blue Rocks ranked in the top five in shutouts (T-1st, 10), ERA (2nd, 3.23), strikeouts (2nd, 618) and WHIP (3rd, 1.25).
In addition to the team's overall success, seven individual Blue Rocks were recognized for their performance on the diamond and named to the Carolina League All-Star Game. Griffin, Marte, Puckett, Cristian Castillo, Richard Lovelady, Lopez and Miller were all selected to the Northern Division squad. It is the most All-Stars for the Blue Rocks since 2011 when they sent five to the midsummer classic. Griffin will be the lone representative unable to participate due to him playing in Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
The All-Star Game will be held on Tuesday, June 20 in Salem, Virginia at Hayley Toyota Field. The Rocks will begin their second half slate with an eight-game road trip starting in Salem, when they take on the Red Sox beginning on Thursday, June 22 at 7:05 p.m. The Blue Rocks return to Frawley Stadium on Friday, June 30 when they welcome Salem for a four-game homestand. Fans can purchase tickets at www.bluerocks.com.
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.