August is officially underway for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who kicked off their first series of the month on Tuesday, August 2, against the Aberdeen IronBirds.
The showdown between the two teams was one of the more dramatic games of the season thus far, as it went 13 innings and featured a plethora of nail-biting moments. But in the end, the Blue Rocks came out on top, 9-8.
Despite the 17-total scores in the game, it was largely a defensive battle throughout the first few innings. The first intense moment of the game came in the bottom of the fourth inning, which featured a controversial call by the umpires.
Drew Millas of the Blue Rocks hit a fly ball into right field that hit the top of the fence. The hit was originally ruled a home run; however, the umpires overturned the decision and sent Millas back to second base after ruling the hit a double. Other than that, the starting pitchers for both teams kept their opponents’ bats relatively quiet during their time on the mound.
Blue Rocks’ starter Lucas Knowles exited the game after five innings pitched. He ended his day with five strikeouts and no runs allowed. While his strong outing may be overlooked by some after the eight innings and 17 runs that followed, his performance was largely influential on how the game flowed.
“[Knowles] threw the ball so well,“ Blue Rocks’ Pitching Coach Mark DiFelice. “He has a good mix of pitches. He throws five pitches: a two-seam fastball, four-seam, slider, curveball, and change-up. You like to see that from a starting pitcher. He had been fantastic out of the bullpen for us earlier in the season, but he has reinvented himself as a starter.”
While the result of the game came long after his day finished, Knowles still enjoyed watching his team battle.
“[Onix] Vega did a great job for me behind the plate today,“ Knowles said. “As a team, we are putting ourselves in good positions. It was awesome to watch us battle. We just fought and stayed in it the whole time, which led to a very good team win.”
In the same inning that Knowles threw his last pitch of the day, the Blue Rocks put their first run on the scoreboard. The run was a result of a pitching mistake, as IronBirds’ reliever Dan Hammer walked three Blue Rocks batters and hit one which allowed Onix Vega to advance home.
Unfortunately for the IronBirds, that would not be the last of their pitching struggles. Collectively, Aberdeen pitchers walked seven batters. A balk by Wes Robertson in the eighth inning gave the Blue Rocks another run to make the game 5-4 in favor of the IronBirds.
These mistakes gave the Blue Rocks the opportunity to tie the game in the ninth inning, which they were able to do after a Millas single brought in Ricardo Méndez to score the game-tying run.
The game then continued on into extra innings. Aberdeen took the lead in the 11th and 12th innings, but Wilmington matched their runs in each of them.
The IronBirds were unable to score any runs in the 13th inning, which gave the Blue Rocks’ Drew Mendoza the opportunity to win the game for his team with teammate Junior Martina on third base and no outs. On the fourth pitch of his at-bat, Mendoza hit a ground ball that got through the right side gap and allowed Martina to score.
“It feels great to win, especially after almost four hours of playing,” Mendoza said. “Collectively, we have been playing great baseball. Our hitting is starting to come alive, our bullpen has been great, and we got a great start out of Knowles today. I think we are going to keep it going.”
The Blue Rocks will have five more opportunities to keep the winning going against the IronBirds, with the next game scheduled to be played on Wednesday, August 3. The 9-8 victory puts Wilmington only seven games back of Aberdeen in the South Atlantic League South standings.
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