August 30, 2011
(LYNCHBURG, VA) Tuesday night's game in Lynchburg had a little bit of everything: a benches-clearing fracas; multiple lead changes; third-string catchers driving in important runs; extra innings; and an unimaginable amount of drama. But it had one thing that far outweighed the rest for the Potomac Nationals: a 5-4 final score in favor of the visiting P-Nats. With the victory, the Nationals (64-68) moved within one win of clinching a playoff berth and a chance to defend their 2010 Carolina League championship.
In a game more Dickensian novel than minor league baseball contest, Zach Walters' two-out, tenth-inning single scored Brian Peacock and held up as the game winner. Peacock had walked with two outs in the inning and stolen second base.
The central drama on a night that went a long way toward determining the postseason fate of both clubs stemmed from a home-plate collision in the top of the fourth inning. After Potomac had seen an early 1-0 lead - gained by Destin Hood's solo homer in the first - evaporate because of a Christian Bethancourt sacrifice fly and a critical throwing error by starter Evan Bronson, the Nationals were poised to bring the game its second tie in the visiting half of the fourth.
After Chris Masters walked both Steven Souza and Brian Peacock with one out, Walters hit a hot shot to third base. Joe Leonard made a fabulous diving stop and threw to second to retire Peacock for the inning's second out. With Jose Lozada at the plate, Walters made a delayed steal attempt of second base. Bethancourt's throw was caught by Marcus Lemon in front of the second base bag, and the throw came home. Bethancourt was poised to tag out Souza by a wide margin, but Souza lowered his shoulder into the Hillcats catcher, sent Bethancourt flying and dislodged the ball to tie the game.
In the fifth, after Potomac surged back ahead with a pair of sacrifice flies from Jeff Kobernus and Justin Bloxom, Souza came to the plate with two outs and Hood at first. Masters drilled Souza on the left leg, the two began jawing at one another, and the benches emptied. No punches were thrown during an extended disagreement on the diamond, which led to the ejection of three Hillcats pitchers: Masters, Eliecer Cardenas and Ryan Buchter.
Just as play was finally set to resume, Buchter learned of his ejection and came storming onto the field and into the face of home-plate umpire John Bacon. He was removed from the field and sanity was restored - albeit temporarily.
Bethancourt had to come out of the game shortly after the collision, though he appeared to remove himself because of symptoms of a previous injury, which had forced him to pause play earlier in the game, prior to the run-in.
The backup catcher Shawn McGill was also injured and removed from the game in the fifth inning after Francisco Soriano's follow-through clipped him on the face. Ryan Query came on as the third Hillcats backstop, and would figure prominently in the game.
In the fifth, Query's sacrifice fly pulled Lynchburg within one at 4-3. Andrelton Simmons had doubled with one out and stolen third base before Query delivered. And then in the seventh, Neil Holland allowed a leadoff double to Marcus Lemon. Holland then got the next two outs and gave way to Frias, who was summoned to face Query. But the Hillcats' catcher singled on a bouncer into left field that knotted the game.
Both clubs squandered glorious opportunities in the ninth. Potomac - which was just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position for the night - led off the frame with a Eury Perez single. Perez, who had three hits on the night, stole second for his third theft of the game, and moved to third on a passed ball. After Francisco Soriano reached on a bunt single to put runners on the corners with no outs, Kobernus struck out and Hood grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Lemon led off the Hillcats' ninth with a double inside the third base bag and advanced to third on Todd Cunningham's perfect sacrifice bunt. The Nationals intentionally walked Simmons, and Query once again strode into the batters' box for what felt like a scripted moment. But the Hillcats put on a safety squeeze that backfired. Query's bunt went right back to Joe Testa, who fired to Peacock at the plate to tag out Lemon. Testa then struck out Joey Terdoslavich to send the game to extras; he would eventually be credited with his sixth win.
After Walters' big hit in the top of the tenth, Hector Nelo worked around a two-out walk to end the ballgame and earn his 18th save.
With the win, Potomac now needs just one more victory - or one more Lynchburg loss - to clinch a playoff berth. They will look for it Wednesday night at 7:05 P.M. with Paul Demny on the mound.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.