by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats come into Game 2 of their current five-game homestand against the Chattanooga Lookouts needing as many victories as they can get.
The Mudcats lost the first-half race in the Southern League's North Division by just one game to the Huntsville Stars, but have started slow in the second half and come into the contest in last place.
Carolina is still in second place in the full-season division standings, but unless they either win the second half or Huntsville does that figure is completely meaningless.
It's mostly sunny and warm, and after some chicken tenders I'm ready to go and so are the boys.
It's a pitchers' duel early and late, but it turns into a saga before the Mudcats win 5-4 in 13 on late heroics from Juan Francisco (pictured).
Carolina gets on the board first against Jesus Castillo in the second. Justin Tordi draws a leadoff walk and advances on a bunt from pitcher Matt Klinker before Stephen Chapman deposits the next pitch over the Catfish Corner fence in right. Then with two out Francisco lifts his first pitch just over the wall in left.
Chattanooga rallies for one in the fifth, as James Tomlin reaches on a bad-hop triple to right and scores on Justin Sellers' bouncer to third.
And the pitchers' duel resumes after that.
But the Mudcats' defense falls apart in the ninth. With two out, Tomlin's at-bat stays alive when first baseman Logan Parker gets in position to catch a pop foul and the ball drops cleanly between his glove and his body for an error. Tomlin responds with a single to center and Sellers follows by bouncing a 3-1 pitch off the huge scoreboard in left to make it 3-3.
Chattanooga scores again in the top of the 13th, as Jerry Gil walks five batters in the inning including the worst one to Gabe Gutierrez with the bases loaded.
But Carolina responds with a two-out rally in the bottom off Victor Garate. Chapman and Jake Kahaulelio draw back-to-back walks before Francisco - who declines a post-game interview claiming a sore throat - clubs a 1-2 offering into left for a two-run double.
And there is, indeed, joy in Mudcatville.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "I hate it for Parker, but I'm kind of glad to see that happen. We showed ourselves we could win a game like that. That's what's good about this game. I've seen something like that happen probably 10 times, sometimes to some of the best fielders in the big leagues. It's never easy."
Parker: "My feet just got too close together (on the error) and that sped everything up. That ball Francisco hit (for the game-winner) looked really good to me."
Klinker: "Things like (Parker's error) happen. It's just nice we were able to pull it out. Baseball's a funny game. Hang around long enough and you can see anything."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats are back to within four games of the lead and Chattanooga's pad over West Tenn is one game.
Stars of the game
1. Francisco, with three hits including the game-winning double and the homer for three RBI.
2. Klinker, for a six-inning quality start in which he allows one run on four hits with eight strikeouts.
3. Chattanooga reliever and Duke alum Zach Schreiber, who strikes out four in three perfect relief innings.
Play of the game
Carson Kainer's catch on the warning track in right with two out in the 11th, robbing Chattanooga's Lucas May of a two-out extra-base hit.
Chattanooga leads series 12-11.
Carolina: Won 1.
Chattanooga: Lost 1.
Carolina: Received LHP Joe Krebs, promoted from Sarasota.
Chattanooga at Carolina, Wednesday, 7:15 p.m.
James Adkins (L, 5-6, 4.47) vs. Tom Cochran (L, 3-3, 3.51)