Salem, VA - Three Salem runs in the bottom of the sixth inning doomed the Wilmington Blue Rocks in a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox on Saturday at Haley Toyota Field. Luis Rico allowed two inherited runners to score and let across a run of his own in the decisive frame, as the Sox evened this crucial three-game set at a game apiece. Brandon Downes homered in the losing cause for the Blue Crew, who dropped 2.5 games behind the Red Sox in the second-half Carolina League North Wild Card race.
Jared Ruxer , who had tossed five strong frames of two-run ball, yielded a double and a walk to start the sixth inning. With Wilmington up by two runs, manager Jamie Quirk inserted Rico to try and preserve the lead. The lefty reliever induced a deep fly ball to center that allowed both base runners to advance to start his outing. That set up Jhon Nunez' game-tying two-run single. Victor Acosta followed with an RBI-double to left-center that put Salem ahead to stay.
The three-run frame came on the heels of a three-run top of the sixth from Wilmington. Roman Collins and Wander Franco each singled to start the inning and then Downes brought them home when he belted a three-run bash well over the left-centerfield fence. The Rocks' first home run in the month of August put them ahead 4-2.
Wilmington had gotten on the board first courtesy of Franco's two-out RBI single in the third, while Salem got a two-run dinger in the fourth from Conrad Gregor.
Ruxer received a no-decision despite fanning a season-high eight in five-plus frames. Rico took the loss, lasting just two-thirds of an inning. He has now allowed all nine runners he has inherited this season to score, despite not allowing a run of his own in eight of his 12 outings.
Wilmington wraps up its six-game road trip at Salem on Sunday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. as left-hander Cristian Castillo (6-9, 3.89) gets the ball for the Blue Rocks against Salem southpaw Kyle Hart (1-1, 2.89). Fans can listen to the game as Matt Janus and Cory Nidoh will have the call on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
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Wilmington ended its longest team home run drought of the season on Saturday. The Rocks had gone nine games since hitting their last long ball on July 31, before Brandon Downes launched a three-run bomb to left-center in the top of the sixth. It was Downes' 11th dinger in only 51 Advanced-A games, but was his first since July 27 (a span of 13 games). As a unit the Blue Crew have a Carolina League-low 71 homers in 2017. Wilmington has shown more power on the road however, registering 50 of their home runs away from the not-so hitter-friendly confines of Frawley Stadium.
Home-field advantage has been the key in the season series between the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Salem Red Sox in 2017. The Rocks are a robust 10-4 on the season when facing Salem at Frawley Stadium, including a four-game sweep to end the first half which kept the Red Sox from winning the Carolina League Northern Division crown. Conversely, Wilmington is just 2-7 this year at Haley Toyota Field. Salem is also the site of two out of three of the Blue Crew's walk-off defeats this season.
Wander Franco continues to excel during his second season with the Blue Rocks. The 22-year-old Dominican Republic native went 3-for-4 on Saturday with an RBI and a run scored. It was his team-leading 32nd multi-hit game of the season. Franco has had a nice road trip, hitting safely in all but one game and driving in four runs. He has also been at his best when facing Salem this season. The third baseman is batting .375 (33-for-88) with six extra-base hits, 14 RBI and 14 runs scored in 22 games versus the Sox.
Nick Heath continues to produce at the plate for the Rocks. After going hitless 15 times in his first 28 Advanced-A games and batting just .175 during that stretch, Heath has hits in ten of his last 11 contests. The outfielder got yet another knock and worked his way on base twice courtesy of free pass in Saturday's setback. He is 12-for-19 with six runs scored and six walks during the first five games of the Rocks road trip to Down East and Salem.
Yeison Melo made his Advanced-A debut on Saturday. On the first pitch he saw he laced a double off the very top of the fence in left field. Melo finished his night 1-for-4. He joined the team earlier in the week at Down East from Low-A Lexington where the Bani, Dominican Republic native batted .256 with three homers and 22 RBI in 39 games with the Legends. Melo is in his third year of professional baseball in the United States after signing with Kansas City as an international free agent in November of 2013.
The Blue Rocks have played in a Carolina League-high 44 one-run games so far in 2017. No other club in the ten-team loop has played in more than 39 single-score affairs. The Rocks are now 24-20 in such contests. Wilmington opened the season just 4-13 in one-run games, then won 17 of their next 19, before dropping five of its last eight affairs decided by one tally.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.