If the Hickory Crawdads wind up in the 2019 South Atlantic League playoffs, they will be able to factor in their play against the team chasing them for that spot.
The Crawdads rallied twice Sunday afternoon and defeated the Greensboro Grasshoppers 10-4 in front of 1,683 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium
Hickory’s win closed out a 4-2 home stand over the past week and more importantly increased their lead over Greensboro for the second team out of the Northern Division that will face first-half winner Delmarva (Md.). The Crawdads (78-49) took two of three from the Grasshoppers (75-55) this weekend and won 9 of 12 this year against their in-state rival.
Coming into the series, Crawdads manager Matt Hagen said there wasn’t much talk in the clubhouse specifically about Greensboro.
“We didn’t put much emphasis on it,” explained Hagen. “The guys already knew. The guys in the clubhouse know where things are at and I think it’s a sense of pride for them. They wanted to prove we’re the better club and it didn’t require any extra coaching from us. I give credit to the leaders in the clubhouse for stepping up.”
In the wildcard race, Hickory now leads the Grasshoppers by 4 ½ games in the overall standings with eight to play. The Crawdads magic number to clinch a playoff sport is four, meaning any combination of four Hickory wins or Greensboro losses. Hickory will try to decrease that number during a four-game series at Columbia (S.C.) that started Monday. Greensboro returns home to face Rome (Ga.) for four.
However, the Crawdads are (37-24 second half) in the thick of the race for the second-half Northern Division race. The win closed their deficit to Delmarva to one game after the Shorebirds were routed 9-0 at Hagerstown. The Shorebirds started a four-game series at Lakewood (N.J.) Monday.
After losing 4-2 to the Grasshoppers on Saturday, the Crawdads fell behind in the first as Ji-Hwan Bae used his legs to put Greensboro ahead. The Pittsburgh Pirates number eight prospect (mlb.com) Bae slipped a grounder just under the glove of Jax Biggers at second. The speedy Bae then stretched the play into a double as the Crawdads outfield was slow to field the play. Bae took advantage of a pitch in the dirt just off the plate to move to third and when catcher Matt Whatley’s throw skipped into left, Bae scored easily.
From there, both starting pitchers ruled the first six innings. Crawdads starter Abdiel Mendoza allowed just the one unearned run and his Greensboro counterpart Noe Toribio shut out Hickory over the first five innings. However, neither pitcher would have a part in the decision as the offenses finally found a break in the dam.
The Crawdads played small-ball to start the rally against Toribio in the sixth. Kole Enright reached on a bunt single and moved to second on Frainyer Chavez’s sacrifice. One out later, Josh Jung (3-for-5), the Texas Rangers top prospect, cracked a double off the wall in right to score Enright. Tyreque Reed singled in Jung to put Hickory up 2-1.
However, Greensboro returned fire in the seventh, needing five pitches against Mendoza to retake the lead. Luke Mangeri singled in front of Justin Harrer’s sixth homer of the season to right-center. Jonah Davis chased Mendoza with his 18th home run of the year to put Greensboro up 4-2.
Despite the seventh-inning homers, Crawdads manager Matt Hagen was pleased with the outing of his starter.
“A great job by him,” said Hagen. “He’s continuing to show that he wants the baseball and he deserves to have the opportunity to go deep into the game.”
But as they have done often this year, the Crawdads bounced back quickly to tie the score. Ryan Anderson greeted reliever Will Gardner (3-1) with a single and circled the bases on Pedro Gonzalez’s double into the left-field corner. Hickory went on to load the bases with one out, but settled for one run on Jax Biggers sacrifice fly.
The Crawdads sent 11 to the plate and blew open the game in the eighth. With one out, Melvin Novoa and Anderson each singled before Pedro Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Whatley started the merry-go-round with a single to score pinch-runner Jonathan Ornelas.
Alfredo Reyes was brought in to control the damage, but he made it worse by hitting Kole Enright to force in Anderson. Frainyer Chavez provided the big blow of the inning with a bases-clearing double. Jung singled in Chavez to complete the six-run eighth and provide the final margin.
In yet another rally this season, Chavez said he and his teammates have shown a lot of energy, which has led to the belief they will bounce back from any deficit.
“I think that’s been a big part of our success this year,” said Chavez. “Our strategy has been looking at the next guy up. We never give up and we’re fighting every pitch.”
On the key hit, Chavez was more concerned about having a good at-bat and setting up his teammate Jax Biggers to do damage.
“I was looking to get a walk, or anything,” Chavez said. “I kept fighting and fighting and he left it up.”
Picking up in relief of Mendoza, Nick Snyder allowed two hits and struck out three over 2.1 innings to get the win (5-3).