by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 2 of the Carolina Mudcats' five-game homestand against the Tennessee Smokies, and it's about getting to the point where the home team is playing for pride - and for job assignments heading into next season.
The Mudcats, who lost their chance for the Southern League's first-half North Division title when they lost on the road to the Smokies on the final day of the half, are guaranteed a losing record in the second half and likely just a few days away from elimination from the race.
They do have that spoiler thing going, and probably wouldn't mind throwing a monkey wrench into the Smokies' playoff hopes. That doesn't happen as Tennessee wins 3-2, taking a one-run victory for the second straight day.
Today is warm and cloudy, but with no threat of rain.
Umpires and managers are wearing light blue - some would say Carolina blue - sweatbands to promote awareness of prostate cancer.
And the Carolina Hurricanes' "Storm Squad" is in the house.
Let's consume mass quantities of chicken tenders and play ball.
The Smokies get their first run off Tom Cochran with a two-out rally in the third. Starlin Castro hits a double to right, followed by Blake Lalli's RBI single to left.
Tennessee's Jeremy Papelbon (pictured) allows just one baserunner until there are two out in the fifth, when Justin Tordi breaks up the no-hitter with a double to left center.
The Smokies then add a pair of unearned runs in the sixth. After Doug Deeds hits a two-out triple to right, Tony Thomas draws an intentional walk and steals second. Papelbon then reaches on a fielding error by third baseman Kristopher Negron, with both runners scoring on the play.
The Mudcats make things interesting with two runs off Marcos Mateo in the eighth. Sean Henry leads off with a single to left before Negron is hit by a pitch. Zack Cozart hits a one-out grounder to second to score Henry, and then Shaun Cumberland hits an RBI double to right to chase Mateo and bring on David Cales.
But Cales shuts the door in the ninth, striking out Negron to end the game with runners on first and second after allowing two hits.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "Cochran has been solid for us ever since he got here. He's had a big impact on this team. It seems like Papelbon has been good against us all year. All we can do is come back and try to win tomorrow."
Tennessee manager Ryne Sandberg: "(Papelbon) really pitched a hell of a game. He was outstanding. Pap has been doing everything we've asked of him. He's on a nice little roll. ... This group has really improved as the year has gone on. There are a lot of young guys who have worked their way up from A-ball who are really helping us."
Papelbon: "I had good command of my fastball and was able to work both sides of the plate today. (Being Jonathan's brother) is what it is. He's my big brother and I'm proud of what he's been able to do in this game."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats' "tragic number" for elimination is four, while Tennessee has tied West Tenn for first place in the division.
Stars of the game
1. Papelbon, for going 6 2/3 shutout innings with four strikeouts, four hits and no walks.
2. Deeds, for his pair of doubles with two RBI.
3. Cochran, for coming within one out of a quality start in the loss.
Play of the game
Cales' final strikeout.
Tennessee leads 15-12.
Carolina: Lost 3.
Tennessee: Won 2.
Tennessee at Carolina, Monday, 7:15 p.m.
Andrew Cashner (R, 2-3, 3.29) vs. Jerry Gil (2-2, 8.27)