(DURHAM, NC) - The Charlotte Knights built a big lead in the middle innings and then survived a late surge from the Durham Bulls for a 13-11 victory in the opener of a critical four-game series at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Monday night.
The win puts the Knights one game ahead of the Bulls in the International League Wild Card standings and 2.5 games behind the Gwinnett Stripers for first place in the South Division.
Charlotte got the scoring started in the top of the second inning as Yermin Mercedes' fly ball to center just cleared the fence for a two-run homer, his 14th with Charlotte, for a 2-0 lead for the visitors. In the third, Mercedes singled and was caught in a rundown between first and second, allowing Zack Collins to come home with the third Charlotte run.
Up 3-1 in the fifth, the Knights broke the game open. They began the inning with consecutive singles from AJ Reed, Danny Mendick, Nick Madrigal, and Yoan Moncada to plate two runs and Luis Robert's sacrifice fly scored a third. With two outs, Mercedes was walked intentionally to load the bases for Charlie Tilson. The Knights' left fielder delivered with a double to the gap in left-center, clearing the bases for a 9-1 Charlotte lead.
An inning later, Robert connected for a monstrous two-run shot way over the blue monster in left for his 12th Triple-A homer to give the Knights a 10-run advantage at 11-1.
Over the next two innings, the Bulls chipped away for five runs to cut their deficit to 11-6.
In the eighth, the Knights added to their lead on solo home runs from Moncada and Seby Zavala to make it a 13-6 game. Moncada's homer was his second in as many games on his MLB rehab assignment while Zavala's was his 20th of the season.
Two Durham home runs and an RBI single led to five runs for the Bulls in the bottom of the eighth, trimming the Charlotte lead to 13-11.
But in the ninth, Jose Ruiz entered from the bullpen and retired the Bulls in order to finish the win and earn his fifth save with the Knights.
On the mound, Charlotte starter Kyle Kubat (W, 5-1) earned the win after giving up four runs, three earned, on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts over 5.1 innings. Caleb Frare, Thyago Vieira, and Matt Foster were able to hold the lead before Ruiz finished it in the ninth for the Knights' 16th win in their last 21 games.
Robert, Moncada, and Tilson each drove in three runs to lead the offense while six Knights recorded a multi-hit game in the victory. With four home runs, the Knights have now launched 195 total this season, a franchise record.
The Knights and Bulls continue their series on Tuesday night. Justin Nicolino (7-6, 6.05) is set to start for Charlotte. Pregame coverage of the 7:05 p.m. game is set for 6:50 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.