by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Time for Game 3 of the Carolina Mudcats' five-game home series against the Birmingham Barons, and the hole seems to be getting deeper all the time for the home team.
The Barons are the Southern League's best team with over twice as many wins as losses, while Carolina is in last place in the North Division, nine games behind the first-place Chattanooga Lookouts with a "tragic number" of 15 for elimination from the playoff race.
This is a crazy stat. Two teams out of the 10-team Southern League have records over .500, and the season may well finish that way. Birmingham comes into the contest 40 games over the break-even mark. And things don't get any better for the red, black and white tonight as Birmingham wins 11-6.
It's a bit of a saga for me to get over here from Brier Creek tonight. I-540 is a parking lot in Western Wake county, and there's a pretty heavy thunderstorm in the middle of my trip.
But all of that means I get to the park 40 minutes before first pitch instead of about 75, and the game is going to start on time.
Grab a cheeseburger and let's go.
Birmingham wastes no time getting on the board against Zack Ward, as C.J. Retherford draws a one-out walk and scores on David Cook's two-out single to left center.
The Mudcats really get it going in the bottom of the second off John Ely. Todd Frazier draws a one-out walk and scores on Carson Kainer's two-out double that goes off the glove of diving center fielder Jordan Danks. Logan Parker (pictured) adds an RBI double, and after Jason Bour walks Sean Henry hits an RBI single to left center and the homeboys are up 3-1.
But that all gets erased in the third as it turns out to be a rough night for Ward, who issues two bases-loaded walks before Jerry Gil comes in to try to put out the fire. Gil gets Lee Cruz to fly to right for a sac fly and out two, and then Adam Ricks doubles to right center and the Barons lead 6-3.
The Mudcats get a pair of runs in the fourth, as Frazier draws a leadoff walk and Shaun Cumberland doubles to left, and Parker brings them home with a two-run single to left.
But the Barons respond in the fifth in a big way. After Gil issues Jim Gallagher an intentional two-out walk, Lee Cruz answers the challenge by launching a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall with a three-run homer to make it 9-5.
Birmingham adds insurance runs in the seventh and eighth, and the hosts finish the scoring in the bottom of the eighth on a Frazier sac fly.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "Ward is working through some things, but he's got a lot of potential as a pitcher. We fought back tonight. We're just playing against a very good team, and we're not playing as well as we'd like to be, either."
Birmingham manager Ever Magallanes: "I knew we were going to be good when the season started. We've got some talented kids. Our pitching has been real solid, and every time there has been a move the guy who has filled in has done a good job. The reason we're leading the league in pitching is because of (coach) J.R. Perdew and the reason we're leading the league in hitting is because of (coach and former Durham Bull from 20 years ago) Andy Tomberlin."
Parker: "That's just a good club over there. That's almost a whole different team from when we played them in the first half, and they're still just as solid."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats remain nine games behind first-place Chattanooga with not much time to make up the deficit.
Stars of the game
1. Cruz, for the homer and four RBI.
2. Parker, for a double, a single and three RBI.
3. Birmingham reliever Matthew Zaleski, for allowing one run in three innings.
Play of the game
One that didn't mean much. But with two out and none on in the Birmingham ninth, Cruz reached when Carolina second baseman Frazier muffs a popup but tosses the ball to shortstop Justin Tordi for the tag play.
Birmingham leads 6-1.
Carolina: Lost 4.
Birmingham: Won 3.
Birmingham at Carolina, 6:15 p.m. Saturday
Kyle McCulloch (R, 8-8, 4.49) vs. Camilo Vazquez (L, 2-4, 6.27)