by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's the fifth and rubber game of the Carolina Mudcats' home series with the Chattanooga Lookouts, and the Mudcats are definitely looking for a win because they're about to head out on a 10-game road trip.
And the rains that were heading East across Wake county do a pretty good job of delaying the game, although the field is going to be in great shape.
It's another very special occasion tonight as it is the birthday of "Muddy the Mudcat" and mascots from everywhere are in the house including Stormy from the Carolina Hurricanes and Rufus Lynx from the Charlotte Bobcats.
And the game starts 74 minutes late with no apparent threat of further rain, as we get ready for the boys to start circling bases in a game the Lookouts eventually win 9-8 in 12 innings.
The Mudcats have no trouble jumping on starter Alberto Bastardo for five runs on five hits in the first. The big ones are a bases-loaded two-run single from Juan Francisco and a two-out, two RBI single from Chris Denove.
Chattanooga makes it 5-1 in the second on Juan Gonzalez' two-out single to right.
And in the third inning, one of those once-in-a-lifetime things for casual baseball fans happens. The Lookouts have a big inning going as James Tomlin singles to right and then Andrew Lambo reaches on an error to Shaun Cumberland in left. Gaby Martinez follows with an RBI single to right and then Lucas May adds another RBI single to right.
Then it happens. Eddy Perez hits a bouncer straight to first baseman Justin Tordi, who fires home to get Martinez. May is caught between second and third, and Denove fires the ball down to Francisco at third to finish the triple play. (I have now seen three, a 9-2-6 pulled by the Richmond Braves in the late 70s and a bases-loaded L5-4 by the Lynchburg Hillcats against the Durham Bulls sometime in the early 90s. I think, anyway.)
After the Mudcats put one across in the third, Russ Mitchell's homer in the fourth cuts the Lookouts' deficit to 6-4. Carolina answers in the bottom of the frame as Jake Kahaulelio (pictured) hits a one-out triple and scores on Todd Frazier's sacrifice fly.
Chattanooga gets two runs on three hits in the fifth to make it 7-6. The teams trade runs in the sixth before the Lookouts get the equalizer in the seventh. And it stays 8-8 until the Mudcats make a huge error in the 12th.
Mitchell lifts a pop fly to shallow center which Stephen Chapman muffs. Gonzalez sends him to third on a single to right, and then with one out Tommy Giles hits the game-winning single to center.
Jesus Rodriguez retires the Mudcats 1-2-3 in the bottom, and at 12:56 a.m. they start the fireworks show.
Lucky for the Mudcats they're out in the wide-open spaces and not in the middle of someone's downtown.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "That's the way this game is. It's crazy. It's games like this that make it so special when you win. It's just one game, and we just have to keep it going. It's all you can do. We'll come back tomorrow on the road and get back at it."
Kahaulelio, on a big night at the plate that improves him to .282: "That felt really good. I've been working a lot with (Duke alumnus Ryan) Jackson - he was also my hitting coach in Sarasota last year. He knows his stuff and knows what to say every time. I don't know what this 6 ½-hour bus ride is going to be like. We never went more than three in the Florida State League. I guess I'll have to let you know when we get back."
What does it all mean?
That Chattanooga is now all alone in first place in the Southern League's North Division and the Mudcats are in fourth, five games out with just over a month to play.
Stars of the game
1. Gonzalez, for his three-hit night including the game-winning RBI.
2. Kahaulelio, for going 4-for-5 with a triple and a double and three runs scored.
3. Mitchell, for a homer and a single with three runs scored.
Play of the game
The triple play.
Chattanooga leads 14-12.
Carolina: Lost 2.
Chattanooga: Won 2.
Carolina: RHP Enerio Del Rosario promoted to Louisville. RHP Chris Kelly promoted to Carolina from Sarasota.
Carolina at Tennessee, Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
Lee Tabor (L, 1-2, 3.13) vs. David Patton (R, 0-1, 5.79)
West Tenn at Chattanooga, 7:15 p.m.
Luis Muñoz (R, 4-5, 4.48) vs. TBA