KINSTON, N.C. -- With the help of some heads-up baserunning, Kinston took a 2-0 series lead over Frederick on Sunday in their best-of-5 Mills Cup Finals.
While Keys starter Manny Basilio and Javi Herrera of the Indians were locked in a staredown following a collision at home in the fourth inning, Stephen Head alertly dove across the plate to score what would prove to be the decisive run in the Indians' 3-2 victory at Grainger Stadium.
With Kinston ahead, 1-0, thanks to Nathan Panther's home run in the third, Herrera led off the fourth with a bloop single into center field and Head walked. The Indians had the bases loaded with two outs and Jose Constanza at the plate when the bizarre sequence ensued.
Basilio uncorked a wild pitch which catcher Brian Bock chased down and relayed back to the pitcher at home. Herrera collided hard with Basilio, knocking the ball loose.
As the two stood there trading words and the ball trickled away, Head made a break for the plate. He had been watching the play develop as he advanced from second to third on the wild pitch, and his spur-of-the-moment gamble paid off big.
"Before I got to third, I saw that their catcher was just standing there like he was thinking 'dang,' and the pitcher was jawing at Javi," Head explained. "Sarby (Kinston manager/third base coach Mike Sarbaugh) was telling me to stop, but their backs were to me."
Despite Head's running through his red light, Sarbaugh had nothing but praise for the pair after the game.
"Javi had a great read on the ball and Head, seeing how that play developed, that was heads-up," he said. "That was the game right there."
The play turned out to be huge as the Keys scratched back for two runs in the sixth.
Kinston starter Mariano Gomez had cruised through five with a two-hit shutout, but the reliever/spot starter allowed the first two runners to get on base in the sixth. Paco Figueroa led off with a single and scored on a double by Jason Fransz, the league's top power hitter.
That signaled the end of the day for Gomez, who was replaced by T.J. Burton. The reliever had finished second in the league with 19 saves, but had been on the inactive list for a few weeks as he helped pitch Team Canada into the 2008 Olympics. This was his first action since returning from Cuba.
He got two quick outs against the heart of the Keys' lineup, as Nolan Reimold popped out to shortstop and Mario Delgado flied out to left. But Vito Chiaravalloti looped a single to right to bring home Fransz and make it 3-2.
For the second time in as many games, Kinston reliever Randy Newsom was masterful. The sidearmer struck out four over two hitless innings before Kyle Collins notched the save with a scoreless ninth.
"I can't say enough about him, throwing strikes and keeping the ball down," Sarbaugh said of Newsom, who threw 2 1/3 innings of one-hit ball in the team's 10-4 victory the night before. "He rebounds well. He can throw 40 pitches and the next day play catch like he didn't throw at all."
Gomez earned the win with five-plus innings of four-hit ball, allowing two runs and striking out three.
Basilio, also a reliever/spot starter, took the loss after allowing three runs -- two earned -- on six hits and four walks while striking out six over 5 2/3 innings. It was his longest outing since joining the Keys from Class A Delmarva in mid-July.
The series moves up to Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, as the teams' No. 1 starters will face off 7 p.m. ET on Monday. The Keys send Luis Ramirez (8-9, 4.23 ERA, 122 strikeouts) to the mound, where he'll face left-hander Chuck Lofgren (17-5, 2.32, 125 strikeouts), the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year.
"We need to ride this momentum we're on, and we have our horse going tomorrow," said Head of Lofgren, who has a 1.01 ERA in six starts against the Keys during the regular season. "He's the best pitcher in the league."