by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats are looking to end the first half of the Southern League season on a positive note, and they’ll try to do it by winning their series against the Mississippi Braves at Five County Stadium.
Game 4 of the five-game series is going to happen on a very hot night, with ace lefty Tom Cochran (3-2) taking the hill against Mississippi southpaw Mike Minor (1-6), who played for Mudcats skipper David Bell in the Arizona Fall League and comes in with 96 strikeouts. And the traveling mascot BirdZerk is in the house.
The pitchers’ duel happens, as nobody scores over the final eight innings in a 2-1 Mississippi victory.
Mississippi plays small ball to get up two runs in the first. Antoan Richardson and Alejandro Machado get back-to-back bunt singles before Willie Cabrera’s single to right. Mauro Gomez scores Richardson with a grounder to third, and then Donell Linares gets Machado home with a sacrifice fly to center.
Kris Negron halves the lead for the Mudcats in the bottom of the frame when he launches a one-out, 3-1 offering over the wall in left center.
And that ends the scoring, period.
Minor goes seven innings and allows the run on two hits with five strikeouts and no walks in the victory before Juan Abreu goes the last two for the save.
Cochran goes eight innings and allows the two runs on four hits with four strikeouts against one walk.
Negron is the only player with two hits, while Dave Sappelt and Eric Eymann have the other Mudcats safeties.
After the game the Mudcats get an unwelcome surprise in the form of random drug testing. It’s particularly problematic after playing a game in 90-degree weather, as players must produce enough urine to make the test effective but if there’s too much water in it they have to try again. Word was the test was still in progress at the time of this writing.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “Cochran just pitched great, and after those two bunts and a fly ball to right that fell in — you never expect (the scoring) to end right there. Minor’s a hot prospect, and he’s throwing harder now. You could tell he was talented but now you can see the real him. He’s throwing harder and has a sharper breaking ball.”
Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman: “All the scoring in the first inning and two well-pitched games by both starters — it was a great contrast in the kinds of left-handers each one of them are. That’s where you’d like to have a group of high schoolers and say ‘See, you don’t have to throw 93 to get guys out. Look at this guy (Cochran) right here. He’s pitching. He never threw back-to-back pitches the same speed, and very rarely did he throw back-to-back the same type of pitch. We kept beating the ball into the ground and popping it up. … I’m glad we were able to muster two out of the first. … I’m happy for Minor because he’s pitched five or six times like that and not gotten the win. Ordinarily he’s on the bottom end of that 2-1 score.”
Sappelt: “Minor kept the ball down and had pretty good velocity. He was mixing his pitches up pretty good and keeping guys off-balance. You’re going to have those games sometimes, and you’ve just got to look past it and get them tomorrow. That’s probably the best pitching duel I’ve seen this year when both pitchers have done well. It was a quick game.”
What does it all mean?
That there’s a rubber match on Sunday to end the first half.
Play of the game
Cabrera’s first-inning single to load the bases.
Stars of the game
Carolina: Lost 1.
Mississippi: Won 1.
Mississippi at Mudcats, 2 p.m.
Jacob Thompson (R, 3-4, 6.36) vs. Matt Fairel (L, 0-2, 9.00)