by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 4 of this crucial five-game series late in the first half, and the Carolina Mudcats are going to need to win two straight afternoon games to avoid losing a home series to last-place West Tenn.
And it's hot, hot, hot.
(Spoiler alert: Mudcats win 4-3. That's defensive hero Todd Frazier in the picture.) Here's the grid.
My daily drive from Brier Creek (the Townhouses, OK?) is becoming routine after four trips. It's basically get on I-540 East, follow instructions at the end of it when you have no other choice, look for the official brown sign that says "Five County Stadium," and then turn right when you see the big baseball on top of the water tower.
As soon as I come through the gate I remember it's "Family Fun Day," since there's a guy a bit older than me having a catch with a guy who's probably his son. About 75 people are playing catch, and after the game the kids will run the bases.
It's also "Pink in the Park" day, with the hosts wearing whites with pink trim, staff members sporting pink ribbons and all manner of pink Mudcats souvenirs for sale. Broadcaster Patrick Kinas, apparently the only other local media type at the game, is wearing a pink N.C. State shirt in memory of basketball coach Kay Yow who died of breast cancer in January after fighting it for 22 years. Kinas is also the veteran radio voice of the Wolfpack Women.
I complete my culinary circuit of the park with a cheeseburger and natural cut fries. The burger is a keeper (but really, how can you mess one up unless you have some old meat or knock it off the grill?), so now the rotation is Italian sausage to chicken tenders to cheeseburgers.
Let's play ball.
West Tenn scores in the first when Oswaldo Navarro walks, steals second and scores on a double to left from Cat-killer Marshall Hubbard, who is seems to be hitting about .890 in the series. Hubbard played at UNC in 2004 after two years at William & Mary (Disclaimer: from which I somehow managed to graduate during the Carter administration.)
Now don't even get me started on how the NCAA conjures up the idea that two tiny feathers on the word "Tribe" are "hostile and abusive" while Florida State's Chief Osceola mascot is not. (Can you say "Ka-CHING!" boys and girls?)
"That's a JOKE," Hubbard, who is in reality hitting .375 with two homers, a double, two RBI and four runs scored in four games, said of the former W&M logo controversy. "And you can write that I said that, in capital letters."
Back to the game, the home team gets out of the jam when left fielder Frazier guns Hubbard down at the plate on Johan Limonta's single.
It goes to 2-0 in the third, as Hubbard draws a one-out walk and later scores from third when Apex High and N.C. State alum Matt Mangini swings at a third strike but advances on the wild pitch.
Carolina ties it in the third as Chris Denove draws a one-out walk, advances on Sean Henry's single to left, followed by a walk to Chris Heisey and Yonder Alonzo's sac fly out yonder to center field. Danny Christensen commits the cardinal sin of a bases-loaded balk to tie it, then issues another walk before escaping with a fly ball.
Now comes controversy. With one out in the fourth Carolina's Logan Parker - going lefty vs. lefty against West Tenn's Danny Christensen - blasts a 3-2 pitch high over the foul pole in right and first-base ump Matt Schaufert rules it a home run. Out comes Diamond Jaxx skipper Phil Plantier to argue foul ball and plate ump Tony Basner buys it, reversing the call.
In the classic film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," which was Spencer Tracy's final performance, his Matt Drayton character quotes Isabel Sanford's Tillie as having said "All hell done broke loose now!" And that's what happens next in Zebulon, including something I had never seen before on a baseball field.
Mudcats manager David Bell is about to bust an artery when Basner and Schaufert simultaneously eject him. The hitting coach, Duke and Durham Bulls alum Ryan Jackson, gets the lineup card.
"I think that might be a first," said Bell, who said he really wasn't planning to get ejected, says later of the synchronized boot.
Parker calmly steps to the plate and grounds out uneventfully to first, but after Denove ends the inning with a fly to left Parker lets the boys in blue have it, gets tossed and then does a short impromptu mime skit behind home plate. It wasn't quite YouTube stuff, but he makes his point.
"The call could have gone either way, but then they changed it at home plate," Parker said. "They could have done better."
But all's well that ends well for the home team.
With one out in the seventh, Heisey follows Henry's single by blasting a 3-1 offering from Mumba Rivera off the big scoreboard in left for his 13th homer of the season.
Then in the ninth, Carolina closer Ramon Geronimo gets into and out of big trouble to earn his fifth save.
With one out, Brent Johnson singles to center and Oswaldo Navarro doubles to right. Geronimo issues Hubbard an intentional walk, but then digs himself a deep hole by unintentionally walking Limonta to cut the lead to 4-3. Up comes Erick Monzon, hitting a fly ball to Frazier who cuts down Navarro at the plate and sends lots of folks home happy.
"I got lucky," said converted shortstop Frazier, who said it was the first time in his life he had gunned down two at the plate from the outfield in one game. "Sometimes the ball comes right to you."
Can't get enough?
Turn in your ticket from Sunday's game and get free general admission for Monday's contest.
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats are two games behind Huntsville in the Southern League's North Division, with Carolina having six games left in the half. Huntsville was rained out at home against Jacksonville, and willl play two Monday. The Stars have eight games remaining in the half.
Stars of the game
1. Frazier, for his two outfield assists.
2. Heisey, for his game-winning homer.
3. Henry, for his 4-for-4 outing with a steal and two runs scored.
Play of the game
Frazier's outfield assist to cut down the potential tying run and end the game.
Carolina: Won 1.
West Tenn: Lost 1.
West Tenn: Placed C Colt Morton on the restricted list. Called up OF Gavin Dickey from High Desert. Activated C Guy Welsh from Extended Spring Training. Sent RHP Luis Muñoz to Everett.
West Tenn at Carolina, Monday, noon
Justin Sousa (right, 4-4, 3.21) vs. Tom Cochran (left, 0-0, 2.53)