No loss feels good, but this one had to sting especially hard.
The Hoppers looked ready to shake out of their losing streak Sunday when they built an early 3-run lead and were still up by one against Delmarva in the top of the ninth inning. But they just couldn't close it out.
The Shorebirds rallied for three runs in the ninth to pull out a 6-4 win, completing a four-game sweep. It was Greensboro's sixth straight loss overall and the 10th straight on its home field.
There were bright spots, to be sure. The Hoppers were able to patch together three hits and a walk to score three runs in the third inning. Thomas Jones had an RBI double. Osiris Johnson, the only one of the three youngsters to play, drove in two more runs with a broken-bat double.
In the fourth, J.D. Osborne slugged his first homer as a Hopper, a long blast that cleared the bank in left field. That gave Greensboro a 4-1 lead. There was a chance to do more damage, but Jhonny Santos struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
That was pretty much it for the offense, which managed one hit over the last five innings. The Hoppers drew five walks in the game but could only move one of them around to score.
Hoppers starter Sean Guenther gave up one run through the first four innings but was nicked for single runs in the fifth and sixth as Delmarva shaved the lead to 4-3. Things looked good after Nestor Bautista retired all six hitters he faced in the seventh and eighth to get to closer Michael Mertz in the ninth.
But it wasn't Mertz's day. Cadyn Grenier greeted him with a solo homer to lead off the ninth to tie the game. He struck out the next hitter, but walked Seamus Curran, uncorked a wild pitch and gave up an RBI single to Kevin Mosequit that gave Delmarva the lead. The Shorebirds tacked on an insurance run on a throwing error by first baseman Garvis Lara for a two-run lead and a complete shift in momentum.
Jones drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth. Then, after Santos struck out, Jones inexplicably broke for second base and was an easy pickoff victim. Johnson struck out to end the game.
It was the second straight day pitching for Mertz, but he's done that before this year.
"He only threw 11 pitches (Saturday)," said pitching coach Mark DiFelice, "but his stuff flattened out today. I think that home run took the wind out of his sails."
The Hoppers have one home series remaining, a four-game set against Lakewood, the best team in the South Atlantic League. The BlueClaws won the first half and are 40-21 in the second half, leading Hickory by 4 1/2 games with eight to play.
If Lakewood wins both halves, the team with the next best overall record will be the second playoff team from the North Division. Delmarva is in the hunt for that spot.
Ethan Clark will start Monday's 7 p.m. game for the Hoppers.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.