by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Back for Game 2 of the Carolina Mudcats' only home series with a loaded Birmingham Barons club, and the Mudcats' hole has gotten just a little deeper.
The Mudcats are currently in last place in the Southern League's North Division, with a "tragic number" of 16 for elimination from the playoff race heading into the game.
Things don't turn out well tonight either, as the Mudcats outhit the Barons 9-7 but make two costly errors in the seventh and lose 5-3.
Now, as I told you a day ago, Birmingham hitting coach Andy Tomberlin played for the Durham Bulls for several years, and was actually in a big 1988 series for the Bulls against the Kinston Indians.
Durham had gotten off to a lightning-fast start - I believe it was 30-13 - under Buddy Bailey before the day Chuck Tanner was fired as the Atlanta Braves' skipper. That set off a chain reaction that sent Russ Nixon from Greenville to Atlanta, Bailey to Greenville, and Grady Little from the Braves' Midwest League franchise in Burlington, Iowa, to Durham.
Little went on to become one of the Bulls' best managers, but the chemistry with that team seemed to get all discombobulated by the change in managerial styles. The Bulls found themselves needing to win three of four in the series at Kinston to end the first half, and didn't manage to get it done when they lost the series finale at a packed Grainger Stadium.
That was one of four times I witnessed the Bulls losing the one road game they had to win to get a first-half championship in the Carolina League's Southern Division. Good times.
Anyway, one of the Kinston Indians' stars in 1988 was Ever Magallanes, who is now Birmingham's skipper and Tomberlin's boss.
Tomberlin, a Monroe native and Western Carolina alum, was enough of a gamer to get by on his hustle and guts to play parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues.
That was evident one night in Durham, as he is to date the only player I have ever seen get three visits from a trainer in the same game and play all nine innings. He got spiked at second base, was hit on the arm by a pitch, and ran into the right-field wall at the DAP catching a long fly ball.
But I digress.
Let's get some chicken tenders and play ball.
Birmingham continues to play at a very high level, and that continues tonight.
David Cook (pictured) gives the Barons the lead when he starts the second by blasting Tom Cochran's 2-2 pitch over the Catfish Corner fence in right.
The lead goes to 2-0 in the fifth, as Jim Gallagher draws a leadoff walk and later scores on Rob Hudson's two-out single to left.
The Mudcats tie the score in the bottom of the frame, when Logan Parker blasts a first pitch fastball over the Catfish Corner fence.
Birmingham takes the lead for good in the seventh on Rob Hudson's two-out, two-run single to right, after errors earlier in the inning from shortstop Zack Cozart and third baseman Juan Francisco.
Carolina gets four straight singles to start the seventh, with the first three off Charlie Shirek. Ricky Brooks gives up an RBI hit to Carson Kainer before working his way out of the jam.
Birmingham adds an insurance run in the ninth off Philippe Valiquette, as Jim Gallagher draws a leadoff walk and comes home on Hudson's one-out single.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "We had our chance there in the seventh. Kainer made a perfect bunt to load the bases, but we got just one run out of it. And he hustled (to reach on a fielder's choice) before Parker hit that home-run ball. (The Barons) are a good, fundamentally sound team. They swing the bats, and there's a lot to be said for momentum and confidence."
Cochran: "Everything was good tonight. I kept my walks down a little better. I think them and Tennessee are the toughest lineups I've faced here. I threw (Cook) a changeup and he went opposite field with it just like he was supposed to. That's what Catfish Corner is for."
Parker: "Their starter was good. He kept us off-balance and we didn't get timely hits. They did."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats dropped 9 ½ games behind first-place Chattanooga.
Stars of the game
1. Hudson, for three hits and three RBI.
2. Shirek, for the quality start in a victory.
3. Parker, for his two-run homer.
Play of the game
Hudson's two-run single in the seventh.
Birmingham leads 5-1.
Carolina: Lost 3.
Birmingham: Won 2.
Carolina: LHP Alexander Smit promoted from Sarasota. LHP Jeremy Horst sent down to Sarasota.
Birmingham at Carolina, 7:15 p.m.
John Ely (R, 10-2, 2.85) vs. Zach Ward (R, 0-2, 23.13)