by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's the finale of the Carolina Mudcats' homestand and the last time they'll play the Birmingham Barons this season unless a 100-year miracle gets the home team a playoff berth.
It's a hot, cloudy afternoon, but at least the Mudcats have room for some optimism since they were finally able to beat the league's best team last night.
And they need wins badly, as they enter today's action with a "tragic number" of 13 for elimination from the Southern League's North Division race.
There's not going to be much of a crowd, though there's an interesting addition to the press box. On hand for the past two games to write a story for hometown paper back in The Netherlands is Frank Vonken, who introduces himself to everyone as "Frank from Holland." Frank, who says he speaks five languages ("We're not worthy!") is on hand to cover Alex Smit (pictured), the big lefty from Eindhoven who is back in the lineup after recovering from a sore back.
The trip turns out to be a productive one for our friend Frank, as Smit - whose accent is now barely discernable - allows two runs on two hits in seven innings to pick up the decision in a 4-3 victory.
The Mudcats get off to a good start against Johnny Lowe. Jake Kahaulelio leads off the first with a double and scores on Todd Frazier's two-out double to left.
And they double the lead in the third, as Kahaulelio again leads off with a double, then scores on Sean Henry's two-out single to left.
Birmingham chips away, getting one in the fourth off Smit as David Cook walks, advances on a balk and scores on former Mudcat Javier Colina's one-out single to left.
And the Barons tie it in the sixth as Rob Hudson leads off with a homer to left.
But the Mudcats put the game away with a two-run rally off Henry Mabee in the seventh. Stephen Chapman leads off with a single to jump-start a very well-played inning for the homeboys. He moves to second on Jason Bour's bunt and takes third on a wild pitch. After Kahaulelio walks, Shaun Cumberland hits an RBI single to right followed by Zack Cozart's single to left to make it 4-2.
Birmingham adds a final run in the ninth off Philippe Valiquette, as Jim Gallagher draws a one-out walk and scores on Lee Cruz's double to right before Valiquette closes it out for his first save.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "Smit was very good. He's impressed me through the course of the year before he had the back problem, and he did a great job today. Jake is playing great. I don't think he has ever played third base before, but he didn't seem to have any problems."
Smit: "My outing was all right. I was just attacking the strike zone. They were aggressive early, so I was able to get through some innings quickly."
Kahaulelio: "I'm feeling really comfortable here. But I was happy I could help the guys out - I get on base and they knock me in. I helped get Cozart and Frazier and Henry RBIs, and they've been doing that all season."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats trail first-place West Tenn by eight games.
Stars of the game
1. Kahaulelio, for scoring three runs after his two doubles.
2. Smit, for the outstanding effort on the mound.
3. Frazier, for the RBI double.
Play of the game
Cumberland's single in the seventh that put the Mudcats ahead to stay.
Birmingham wins it 6-3.
Carolina: Won 2.
Birmingham: Lost 2.
Carolina at Jacksonville, Monday, 7:05 p.m.
Luis Montano (R, 0-3, 8.10) vs. Anibal Sanchez (R, 1-0, 1.29)
Birmingham at Montgomery, Monday, 8:05 p.m.
Matt Long (R, 4-3, 2.95) vs. Rayner Oliveros (R, 5-1, 2.83)