It’s tempting to write this as a valiant ninth-inning comeback, the third during this homestand. But the reality is that the Potomac Nationals had numerous opportunities to win this game sooner and took advantage of a very, very critical mistake.
Going into the 9th, the P-Nats had drawn four walks, stolen five bases, and left on 10 baserunners. They got off to a good start as Mudcats closer Jesus Flores committed the one of the cardinal pitching sins by walking the leadoff batter, Ricky Hague.
Hague stole second to reduce the odds of another double play, as the Woodbridge nine had done in the 7th and 8th innings. But David Freitas struck out for the inning’s first out. Zach Walters worked another base on balls, Potomac’s sixth, to set up 1st and 2nd with one down.
Michael Taylor drove in the tying run with a single to left while Carolina’s LF Anthony Gallas airmailed it past the catcher to allow Walters to take third, Taylor to take second.
Here’s where the critical mistake took place.
With first base open, the Mudcats decided to take their chances with Kevin Keyes, rather than issue the intentional pass and see if they can get another twin-killing with Adrian Sanchez, who had already hit two infield grounders.
The big man from Texas does indeed strike out quite often. And after getting ahead 1-2, the gamble appeared to be on the verge of paying off.
But Keyes also hits a fair amount of flyballs and that’s all that the P-Nats would need as he connected for a drive to medium center to send in Walters with a sacrifice fly with the gamewinner and a 6-5 final.
Keyes’ 23rd RBI (and yes, he does have 23 hits) made a winner out of Cameron Selik, the last of three relief pitchers that combined for six and 2/3rds innings of stellar relief.
Early on, this game had the feel of three of the previous four Carolina-Potomac matchups: A big inning in the 3rd that should have been much smaller that turned a 1-0 lead into a 5-1 deficit.
Spot starter Trevor Holder gave up a leadoff double to left-center followed by a single to left and a stolen base. Holder got the first out on grounder to second with the IF drawn in halfway, and should have had the second out on another grounder, but Freitas was late with the tag on a ball that beat the runner by 10 feet for the first Mudcat run. Another single and an error plated two more runs and another double followed for a fourth, and Holder was out — his scoreless inning streak snapped at 11.
Paul Applebee gave up the fifth Carolina run on a two-out double, but sporting a funky new motion, retired nine of the next 10 for a line of three and 2/3rds with one walk and one strikeout.
Meanwhile, Potomac answered the five-run Mudcat rally with back-to-back RBI singles from Freitas and Walters in the 3rd and a nifty double steal in the 4th that enabled Francisco Soriano to ease Potomac to within one at 5-4 with a grounder to 2nd. Potomac would leave on two in the 5th, one in the 6th, and as previously mentioned, hit into DPs in the 7th and 8th innings.
Rob Wort followed Applebee and worked around a one-out triple by striking out the #3 and #4 batters before turning in a 1-2-3 eighth for his sixth straight appearance without allowing a run of his own, all of them with three or more Ks. Selik worked around his own error (plunking the baserunner on a tapper back to the mound) with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth.
With the win, Potomac improves to 17-22, percentage points behind second-place Wilmington but still 4½ games behind division-leading Lynchburg. Ryan Demmin (0-1, 4.67) gets another turn in the rotation as the P-Nats shoot for the series win and attempt to close out the homestand with a 5-2 mark.