In the opener of their six-game series against the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Wilmington Blue Rocks put on a show with their bats and on the mound to take game one by a final score of 9-3.
Although the Blue Rocks ultimately won this game, it did not come easy. In the top of the first inning, the Cyclones immediately placed runners on first and third with one out following singles by Matt O’Neill and Alex Ramirez. Blue Rocks starter Mitchell Parker was able to escape the jam, forcing a strikeout and a groundout to respond to the back-to-back singles by Brooklyn.
The second inning yielded a very similar result for Parker. After three straight singles by the Cyclones to load up the bases, the starter escaped a jam yet again, forcing two straight pop-ups in the infield and keeping the score 2-0 in favor of Wilmington.
Escaping these two jams early on set the tone for Parker throughout the remainder of his start.
“Executing pitches,” Manager Mario Lisson said after the win. “He [Parker] has to execute his pitches, pitch ahead in the count. When he was in trouble, he did that pretty good, which allowed him to get out of trouble.”
The offense was vibrant for the Blue Rocks in this game. Wilmington scored nine runs on nine hits, and led 4-0 after four innings.
Third baseman Jose Sánchez, who reached base safely three times in this game in addition to blasting an RBI double in the first inning, chimed in on what he thought went right for the offense in this one.
“The approach,” Sanchez said. “We worked on an approach in the cage early this morning. Also the confidence. When guys go up to the plate with confidence, that’s the key.”
Although the Blue Rocks were in the driver’s seat all night long, the Cyclones did not make it easy on them.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Blue Rocks lead got cut down all the way to one run, 4-3, with runners on first and second.
After Shervyen Newton struck out swinging to record the second out, Matt Rudick roped a line drive to right field, which at first appeared to be a potential game-tying base hit. That was until Junior Martina laid all the way out to snag the line drive out of the air and rob Rudick of a base hit, an absolutely game-saving play.
“That’s been a part of who we are as a team,” Lisson said in reference to Martina’s big play. “Very good pitching and good defense. When we play good defense we have a very good chance, and today we played solid defense. That’s what we expect every day.”
Sanchez explained how the team was able to stay composed and not let Brooklyn’s comeback attempt get out of hand.
“We stayed together,” Sanchez said. “We thought about that in the dugout, saying ‘hey, we need to continue to score runs.’ That’s a part of the game.”
In the bottom half of the eighth inning, Wilmington made sure that they would remain in full control when they returned to the field in the top of the ninth.
The Blue Rocks scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning thanks to RBIs from Martina, Leandro Emiliani, Cole Daily, and Ricardo Méndez, blowing the game wide open and making it 9-3. Relief pitcher Jose A. Ferrer shut the door in the ninth to secure the win.
Another storyline from the bottom of the eighth inning came when Robert Hassell III recorded his first hit with the Blue Rocks since being acquired by the Washington Nationals from the San Diego Padres in the blockbuster Juan Soto trade.
“It was good for him to get his confidence back up,” Lisson said. “He’s very talented. We want him to continue to play and get at-bats, and then the talent will come up.”
Last week, the Blue Rocks took game one from the Aberdeen IronBirds in their six-game series, only to lose four straight. Lisson spoke about what his team could do differently this week to avoid a similar outcome.
“Playing defense,” Lisson said. “If we play good defense, we have a pretty good chance, so we have to focus on playing defense.”
Parker earned the win for the Blue Rocks after he pitched 5.1 innings, allowed eight hits, one run, and one walk while striking out five. Cyclones starter Oscar Rojas was handed the loss, making it only 1.2 innings, allowing four hits, three runs, and one walk.
With a strong start to the series, the Blue Rocks will be looking to keep the momentum rolling in game two on Wednesday, August 10.
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