Reading, PA - Needing a win to take the series before a crowd of 5,644 on Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Fightin Phils and Flying Squirrels battled for more than three hours in a test of wills. Each team used four relievers and both staffs combined for 17 walks and 15 strikeouts, but Reading prevailed thanks to a pair of home runs from Mitch Walding and Scott Kingery to improve their record to 4-5. With a day off for Easter Sunday, the Fightins return home Monday night for a three-game series against the defending Eastern League champion Akron RubberDucks.
After two well-pitched games to start the series, the offenses were needed more than usual in game three. Reading raced out to a 2-0 lead against Cory Taylor, who surrendered an RBI single to Andrew Pullin in the first inning. Then in the second, Taylor threw two wild pitches that allowed Walding to come around and score after he opened the inning with a walk.
The Flying Squirrels came out swinging against Fightins starter Shane Watson in the third, which started with a leadoff home run from Slade Heathcott on the very first pitch of the inning. A one out walk by Miguel Gomez brought up the dangerous Chris Shaw, who continued his impressive series with a drive over the center field wall for his second home run in as many days for a 3-2 lead.
Taylor, despite striking out the side in the first and second, couldn't get the shut down inning in the home half of the third. He nearly retired the heart of the lineup in order, but walked Jiandido Tromp on four straight to bring up Walding for his second at-bat. The third baseman capitalized and crushed his first home run of the season to put the Fightin Phils back in front 4-3, starting a common theme for the rest of the afternoon.
Watson's final inning was the fifth, which started with a leadoff double from Shaw that put the tying run at second. A flyout from Hunter Cole ended Watson's day, and started the bullpen carousel for both managers. Lefthander Mario Hollands got the first call for Reading in his 2017 debut, and he quickly loaded the bases with a pair of walks. Adam Sonabend tied the game at four with an RBI groundout, and Hollands bore down with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Carlos Garcia to leave a pair of runners in scoring position.
In the bottom of the sixth with the game tied at four, Harold Martinez worked a one out walk as a pinch-hitter to send it to Kingery at the top of the order. After walking in his first three plate appearances, he got a hold of a 2-0 pitch from lefthander Christian Jones and drilled his team-leading fourth home run to give the Fightin Phils a 6-4 lead. But once again, the lead was trimmed to one when T.J. Bennett skied an opposite field home run to left to make it 6-5 in the top of the seventh. Good news arrived In the home half when Aaron Brown delivered his second single of the game to drive in a crucial run and put the Fightins back in front 7-5.
The final run for the Flying Squirrels came in the eighth on an infield single to Kyle Martin at first base from Miguel Gomez, who scored Rando Moreno from third on a wild play. Looking for the tie behind Moreno was Slade Heathcott, who was called out at the plate after barreling into catcher Joel Fisher.
The Flying Squirrels (4-6) were able to put the tying run on in the top of the ninth, but Miguel Nunez secured his second save and sent the Fightin Phils into their first scheduled off day at 4-5.
America's Classic Ballpark is proud to be a part of Pennsylvania's Americana Region. Season tickets for the 2017 season are available online at Fightins.com, by phone at 610-370-BALL, and in-person at FirstEnergy Stadium. Follow the Fightin Phils on Twitter at @ReadingFightins and like them on Facebook via www.facebook.com/fightins.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.