by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The "death march" is on for the Carolina Mudcats.
They go into tonight's game with the Tennessee Smokies, who are tied for first place in the Southern League's North Division, with a "tragic number" of two for elimination from the playoff race.
Barring about the biggest miracle in the history of sports that's inevitable before the end of the season, but it's a fact that no matter what happens today the Mudcats will go into every game the rest of the year knowing tomorrow's game could be just for pride.
The Mudcats have yet another transaction as Louisville's roster gets set for the almost certain Governors' Cup Playoff spot, as catcher Korey Feiner is now in Triple-A.
There's not going to be much of a crowd in the house tonight, so let's grab an Italian sausage and play.
It's a welcome relief for the home fans, as Camilo Vazquez (pictured) is absolutely dealing to start the game and his teammates are scoring runs. And it all turns out happy this time as the Mudcats hang on for a 7-6 win.
Carolina gets to Hung-Wen Chen for a run in the first as Kris Negron leads off with an infield hit, followed by Jose Castro's single to center and Yonder Alonzo's sacrifice fly to left.
And the Mudcats pour on four more runs in the second. Shaun Cumberland leads off with a double to right and steals third. Sean Henry follows with a walk and a steal before Logan Parker's RBI grounder to short. Jake Long hits an RBI single to left, then moves over on Vazquez's bunt to third. Negron - an American who after the game tries a clubhouse prank of pretending to need a translator - then blasts the next pitch off the left-field scoreboard to make it 5-0.
The Smokies figure out Vazquez with one out in the sixth. Jim Adduci starts the rally with an infield hit to third, followed by Ty Wright's RBI double to right. With two out, Tyler Colvin hits an RBI single to right, and after Marquez Smith walks Welington Castillo hits an RBI double to left to chase the starter and bring on Ruben Medina.
Tennessee adds another in the seventh, as pinch-hitter Doug Deeds singles and later scores on Blake Lalli's two-out single to left.
But Negron and the Mudcats get some insurance in the seventh, as Long leads off with a double to left and scores when Negron blasts a 2-1 offering off the net protecting the numbers on the scoreboard in left.
Carolina turns out to need the insurance because of the Tennessee eighth. With one out, Castillo singles up the middle and then Tony Thomas hits a ball toward second baseman Negron who commits two errors on the play. With runners on second and third pinch hitter Russ Canzler reaches on another error by shortstop Cozart, with two runs scoring to make it 7-6.
And there's some loud and celebrative - although not particularly tasteful - music in the home clubhouse after the win.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "Negron is really athletic and exciting. Vazquez has been doing a great job, especially since he's been starting. I think he's opened some eyes. I like hearing that music. This game's a lot more fun when you win."
Negron: "I didn't think either one of those balls was going to go out. I'm more of a little guy than a home-run hitter."
Vazquez: "I thought it was a pretty good outing until the sixth. Guys were doing their jobs and making plays behind me. I wanted to finish the inning, but they made the right call in taking me out."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats are still not mathematically eliminated from the race, and that Tennessee is tied for second a game back of division leader West Tenn.
Stars of the game
1. Negron, for his two homers and the infield hit.
2. Vazquez, for the solid start and the win.
3. Castillo, for his three hits including two doubles with an RBI.
Play of the game
Negron's second homer that provided the game-winning run.
Tennessee leads 17-12.
Carolina: Won 1.
Tennessee: Lost 1.
Carolina: C Korey Feiner promoted to Louisville. C Jake Long promoted from Sarasota to Carolina.
Tennessee at Carolina, Wednesday, 7:15 p.m.
Casey Coleman (R, 13-6, 3.83) vs. Alexander Smit (L, 3-3, 4.06)