FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Back at the Carolina Mudcats' game again, seeing if they can right the ship after a 3-8 start in the second half.
Game 1 of their four-game set with the Tennessee Smokies is a sellout and the signs outside the parking lot clearly say "STANDING ROOM ONLY," but it's a happy crowd here anticipating the July 4 fireworks show.
At least it's not ridiculously hot. Grab a pregame Italian sausage and it's time to go.
The teams are wearing patches saluting Lou Gehrig's New York Yankees No. 4 number in a promotion about ALS awareness.
The RTP General Assembly Chorus presents the National Anthem, and as always those guys - there are about 30 "barber shop" singers with an average age I'd think over 60 - knock it out of the park. I'm sure in less than a minute, too. If you didn't hear the word "Grammy" in the intro, any time it goes longer than that can be a big waste of everyone's time.
Congressman Brad Miller fires the "ceremonial first pitch" and it's time to play ball.
The Smokies have one local connection, as right-handed reliever Jake Muyco is an alumnus of N.C. State.
And speaking of pitchers, it's a fine pitchers' duel from the start. But it all ends up in tears for the home fans, as a ninth-inning rally comes up short in a 7-4 loss in front of a season-best SRO crowd of 8,596.
The Mudcats get the only early run, in the second off Andrew Cashner. Zack Cozart leads off with a single to left center, followed by a walk to Eric Eymann, Carson Kainer's single to right and Brian Peterson's one-out sac fly to center.
Camilo Vazquez (pictured) goes a very solid five shutout innings for Carolina in his second start of the season, allowing four hits while striking out seven against one walk.
And he won't get the win, as Tennessee gets a run off Ramon Geronimo in the sixth. Marquez Smith leads off with a double to left, later scoring on Russ Canzler's two-out single to left.
Neither will Tennessee starter Andrew Cashner, who allows a run on three hits while striking out six without a walk. That's because the Mudcats get to Muyco for a run in the bottom of the inning. Todd Frazier hits a one-out single to left and steals second. Cozart's single advances him before Eymann's sac fly to right makes it 2-1.
But it all falls apart for the home team in the seventh. The Smokies load the bases off Jerry Gil with one out, and then Ty Wright's bases-clearing triple to greet Phillippe Valiquette produces the first three of five runs to make it 6-2 Tennessee.
It's 7-2 going into the ninth before the Mudcats rally for two runs. Jose Castro's single makes it 7-3 and when Cozart is hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and two out Eymann comes to the plate as the winning run. But a long fly out to right ends the game, and the visitors get their first win in Zebulon in six tries this season.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats skipper David Bell: "I thought Vazquez threw the ball well, particularly since it was just his second start of the year. Our bullpen has been solid for us all year, and tonight it just didn't work out. I was happy we rallied in the ninth inning. We had some really good at-bats."
Vazquez: "I felt pretty good today. I was in synch with (catcher Brian) Peterson the whole time. He had a really good idea behind the plate."
Cozart: "Their pitchers like to bust you inside, and they keep doing it. I felt pretty good up there. I think we're still working on our team chemistry right now. Chris Heisey was the best player in the league before they called him up. He was like our Albert Pujols."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats remain in last place in the Southern League's North Division, five games behind the leading West Tenn Diamond Jaxx.
Stars of the game
1. Wright, with two doubles and three RBI.
2. Vazquez, who went five shutout innings.
3. Cozart, who was 2-for-3 with two walks, an RBI and a run scored.
Play of the game
Wright's three-run double in the seventh.
Carolina: Lost 2.
Tennessee: Won 2.
Tennessee at Mudcats, Sunday, 6:15 p.m.
Casey Coleman (right, 8-3, 2.79) vs. Tom Cochran (left, 1-1, 3.62)