(NORFOLK, VA) - Behind a quality start on the mound and a clutch night at the plate, the Charlotte Knights earned a crucial 5-2 win on Saturday night at Harbor Park in the second game of a four-game series.
The win, coupled with the Durham Bulls' 3-2 loss to the Gwinnett Stripers, restores the Knights' one-game lead over the Bulls in the International League Wild Card standings with two games remaining in the regular season.
After being shut out on Friday, the Knights wasted no time getting on the board on Saturday. The second hitter of the game, Nick Madrigal, reached with a one-out infield single. Yermin Mercedes followed with a double down the left field line, scoring Madrigal all the way from first with the game's first run.
Austin Hays tied the game for Norfolk in the second with a solo homer off Charlotte starter Odrisamer Despaigne in the bottom of the second.
But the tie was short lived. Madrigal led off the third with a walk. Mercedes then restored the Knights' lead with a towering two-run home run down the left field line, his 16th Triple-A home run, as the Knights jumped ahead 3-1.
Norfolk got a run back on Jack Reinheimer's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth. But that would be all the victors could produce off Despaigne.
The Knights' offense added a pair of key insurance runs in the seventh as Zack Collins' fielder's choice ground out scored Ramon Torres. The next hitter, Danny Mendick, added an RBI double down the left field line to give the Knights a 5-2 lead at the stretch.
Despaigne (W, 8-6) then returned to the mound and retired the Tides in order in the bottom of the seventh to end his start. From the fourth inning on, the Charlotte starter retired the final 11 hitters he faced to keep the Knights in front. He would earn the win after giving up two earned runs on four hits with three walks and nine strikeouts over 7.0 innings.
After a quick eighth inning, Charlotte closer Jose Ruiz worked into trouble in the ninth as Norfolk loaded the bases with two outs. But with the winning run at the plate, Ruiz induced a fly out from Mason Williams to finish the victory and earn his seventh save of the season.
Offensively, Mercedes led the way by going 2-for-4 with the home run and three RBI. Madrigal, Mendick, and Luis Robert each recorded two hits in the win as the Knights snapped a season-high six-game losing streak.
The win is also Knights manager Mark Grudzielanek's 200th with the Knights over his three seasons in Charlotte. He is just the third manager in franchise history to reach the 200-win plateau.
The Knights and Tides continue their series on Sunday night. Kyle Kubat (5-2, 5.30) is scheduled to start on the mound for Charlotte. Pregame coverage of the 6:05 p.m. game is set for 5:50 p.m. on 730 The Game ESPN Charlotte. The "Voice of the Charlotte Knights" Matt Swierad will have the call for all of the action
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.