by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It’s the finale of the Carolina Mudcats’ homestand and their three-game series with the Birmingham Barons, and they’re trying to salvage some pride with a victory.
Birmingham has the worst record in the league, but its “tragic number” is at four for elimination from the race in the South Division.
With all that said, it’s a beautiful 79-degree night for baseball as James Avery (0-3) takes the hill against the Barons’ Angel Garcia (1-3).
And the Mudcats finally get off the schneid, overcoming an early four-run deficit to win 8-5.
Birmingham scratches first, as with two out in the first Christian Marrero blasts a 1-0 pitch over the former Catfish Corner sign down the right-field line.
The Barons then add a big inning in the second. Cole Armstrong and C.J. Retherford lead off with back-to-back walks, and then with one out Dale Mollenhauer blasts a 1-1 offering over where the Catfish Corner sign was to make it 4-0.
But the Mudcats retaliate and then some in the third. Jake Kahaulelio doubles to right and then steals third before Miguel Rojas’ RBI single to left. Denis Phipps and Carlos Mendez draw back-to-back walks, and after a wild pitch Luis Terrero hits a sacrifice fly to center. With two out Sean Henry smacks a two-run double to left, then scores when Chris Denove beats out a deep grounder to second to make it 5-4.
Carolina tacks on another with two out in the fifth when Denove launches a 3-2 pitch over the left-field wall to make it 6-4.
Birmingham cuts the lead in half in the seventh, as Justin Greene leads off with a double and scores on Eduardo Escobar’s one-out double to left.
But the Mudcats add some insurance in the eighth. With one out, Denove singles to left center, advances on Brandon Yarbrough’s single to right and scores on Kahaulelio’s single to right. After Kahaulelio steals second and advances on an error, Rojas singles to right to make it 8-5.
Denove finishes with a homer, a double and a pair of singles for two RBI. Henry doubles and singles for two RBI and five Mudcats have multiple-hit games. Avery allows four runs on five hits in five innings, striking out four with six walks in the win. Donnie Joseph collects his first save.
Mollenhauer’s homer leads the Barons’ attack as Garcia takes the loss.
The Mudcats will have Thursday off before hitting the road for seven games at Mississippi and Birmingham, then host the final four games of the season against playoff-bound Tennessee.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “Avery thinks he was horrible, and maybe he didn’t have his best stuff. But he’s so smart and has such a good idea of what he needs to do he has an advantage there. Most guys, if they think they’re that bad they’re not going to have a chance. But intellect is one of his strengths and that helps him on nights like that.”
Denove: “It was a good one. It’s been hard for me to stay focused when a lot of things have been going on outside of baseball (including trips up and down to Louisville.) But the main part is that it’s the same game no matter where you go. I like the guys here, I like the guys up there, and I’m just trying to have a good time while I’m out here. It was nice to get one under our belts before this long road trip, our last one. Morale is high and the bus ride will be a lot nicer.”
Avery: “I’m happy I got a win, but I can’t really pitch much worse. It’s nice that they picked me up, but it’s almost embarrassing to watch. I couldn’t really throw a strike at all. I threw so many sliders because I couldn’t throw a fastball for a strike. I’m so happy we won. Things worked out and it’s good, I guess.”
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats get a happier bus trip and Birmingham is one step closer to elimination.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Kahaulelio’s single in the ninth.
Mudcats lead 5-3.
Carolina: Won 1.
Birmingham: Lost 1.
Mudcats at Mississippi, Friday, 8:05 p.m.
TBA vs. TBA