by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 3 of the Carolina Mudcats' short four-game homestand all against the Tennessee Smokies, and the home boys are desperately in need of getting this thing headed in the right direction.
To review, the Mudcats are in last place in the Southern League's North Division, have lost three straight games overall and six of the last seven to Ryne Sandberg's Smokies coming in. Sandberg isn't in the third-base coaches' box because he's serving a three-game league suspension for some trouble with the umpires.
It's very cloudy but fortunately isn't going to rain, and the crowd is small for the first home game since June with no post-game fireworks scheduled.
Tonight it's back to the chicken tenders.
The Mudcats are taking care of business early against Chen Hung-Wen, en route to a very badly needed 8-1 win behind an outstanding outing from Matt Klinker (pictured).
Carolina gets a run in the first as Jose Castro hits a two-out single to left, and then scores on a wild throw to third from right fielder Tyler Colvin following Brian Peterson's single.
Then in the third, the Mudcats get the kind of hit they've needed for a while.
Shaun Cumberland leads off with a single to left, followed by Carson Kainer's single to right. And Juan Francisco doesn't wait around, blasting the first pitch he sees just over the fence in left to make it 4-0.
That's where the score stays until the eighth when the wheels come off the Tennessee bullpen. Francisco and Logan Parker single and Zack Cozart walk, all off Brian Schlitter. And then with two out, Peterson greets N.C. State alum Jake Muyco with a no-doubt-about-it fly ball over the left-field wall to make the score 8-4.
Tennessee's run that just doesn't matter is in the ninth, and the Mudcats have a happy clubhouse.
In it is relief pitcher Chris Kelly, a 46th-round pick out of Jacksonville in 2004 who lists his birthplace as Durham. He says he was in the Bull City for just a few days; turns out his dad is Pat Kelly, who was playing for the Bulls in 1982.
Pat, who has managed all over the International League, is now the manager of the GCL Reds in Sarasota. He's one of three former Bulls now coaching or managing in the Cincinnati organization, as Ryan Jackson is the Mudcats' hitting coach and former catcher Joe Ayrault is skipper of the Florida State League's Sarasota Reds.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats skipper David Bell: "Klinker was very good. He was good in the one start he had for us earlier this season. I think his curve ball is even better now. And Francisco's homer gave us a big boost. We can't depend on those, but it's always nice when they happen."
Klinker: "Everything was good for me today. The two-seamer was really good. It's the 'bail me out' pitch. My curve ball was in the zone and my changeup was working. And it's always good to pitch with a lead."
Francisco: "Everybody's happy about this win tonight. (Jackson) has been working with me and telling two things: 'See the ball and hit the ball.' and 'Stay back.'"
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats at least for one night looked like they are back on track. If they go on a tear they might look back to this as the game that turned it around.
Stars of the game
1. Klinker, for a seven-strikeout quality start.
2. Francisco, for his three hits including the big homer.
3. Peterson, for the grand slam, a single and a solid night behind the plate.
Play of the game
Francisco's three-run shot in the third.
Carolina: Won 1.
Tennessee: Lost 1.
Tennessee at Mudcats, Tuesday, noon
Jay Jackson (right, 4-3, 3.10) vs. Lee Tabor (left, 0-1, 5.91)