by Mike Potter
The Carolina League plays two 70-game halves, and 28 games into the race they’re in last place and five games out of first in the Southern Division.
Tonight they’ll play the second of a three-game set against the Frederick Keys, affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles, who are percentage points out of first in the Northern Division after a 4-3 win in 11 innings on Friday.
The Keys have several personalities of interest in the lineup. They have last season’s Mudcat center fielder Delvi Cid along with first baseman Connor Narron, who played at C.B. Aycock High in Pikeville and is the son of Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron. And the leadoff man is Johnny Ruettiger, whose uncle Dan “Rudy” Ruettiger was the Notre Dame football walkon portrayed by Sean Astin in the hit movie “Rudy.”
Southpaw Elvis Araujo, recovering from an elbow injury, makes his Mudcats debut against Zach Petersime (1-2, 7.85), who is going on three days’ rest.
Tonight the Keys make the most out of a few clutch hits, scoring four runs in the last three innings to win 7-4.
The Mudcats put up two in the second. Charlie Valerio strokes a one-out double to right, followed by Luigi Rodriguez’ single to left. Justin Toole then lifts a fly ball to center that Cid muffs, with Rodriguez scoring from first on the error.
But Frederick comes back for three in the fourth. Ruettiger draws a leadoff walk, and then with one out Travis Adair reaches on an error to Jerrud Sabourin at first to score Ruettiger. Zane Chavez walks before the runners advance on a wild pitch. Jason Esposito brings Adair home on a grounder to short before Cid scores Chavez on a bunt single to the mound.
Carolina ties it in the fourth, as Rodriguez leads off with a triple to right and scores on Zack McPhee’s one-out fly to center.
And the Mudcats take the lead again in the fifth. With one out, Francisco Lindor singles to right. Sabourin follows by reaching on an error to second baseman Adair, with Lindor continuing home on Petersime’s errant relay throw to third.
Frederick takes the lead again in the seventh. Narron leads off with a single, followed by a double to left from Brenden Webb. Jerome Pena scores the run with a grounder to second, and then with two out Sammie Starr hits an RBI single to right.
And the Keys tack on some more in the ninth. Narron draws a leadoff walk and scores on Ruettiger’s bases-loaded single. Chavez later draws a two-out, bases-loaded walk to make it 7-4.
Trent Howard (1-0) is the winning pitcher, going four shutout innings and allowing three hits with two strikeouts against a walk. Rob Nixon (0-1) takes the loss.
Webb leads Frederick at the plate with a pair of doubles. Rodriguez’ 3-for-4 night including the triple paces Carolina.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Wallace: “It seems like we’ve got our own number. They’re making plays when they need to and getting hits when they need to and we’re not. … Rodriguez (in his sixth game since being called up from Lake County) looks good. He’s got a lot of tools and it’s a matter of him putting it on the field. Elvis was good for his first start of the year. He cruised through the first three innings.”
Rodriguez: “There’s not much difference from the (Midwest) League. I was very happy when I got called up. I just came here to play hard. I think we have a good team. Tonight I was able to find some good pitches to hit.”
Lindor: “We just didn’t execute when we had to. We’ve got a better team than we’ve been showing. We’ve just got to get key hits in key moments. … I’m glad we’ve got Luigi now. He can hit from both sides of the plate, he can run and he can catch the ball. He has all you need, and he’s a great guy off the field.”
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats’ hole is a little deeper, while the Keys are in good shape in the tight Northern Division race.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Starr’s seventh-inning single.
Mudcats: Lost 3.
Frederick: Won 2.
Frederick leads 4-1.
Mudcats (Shawn Morimando 1-3, 3.12) vs. Frederick (Zach Davies 1-2, 4.23), Sunday, 2 p.m.