Remember being a little kid with your friends and you’d pick teams to play whatever sport was in season, and there was that one kid no one wanted on their team. And there’d be this long back-and-forth of, “I don’t want him, you take him.” The Hickory Crawdads and Greensboro Grasshoppers played nine innings of that game Tuesday night.
Greensboro had the final “you can take it” in the eighth and Hickory finally said, “okay” and went home with a 4-3 win in front of 1,382 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium. The victory wrapped up a 3-1 series win over the Grasshoppers and completed a 5-3 homestand, the longest of the season.
Unfortunately for Hickory, it did not make up ground on Delmarva (Md.), which defeated in-state rival Hagerstown 5-4 to move to 40-11, seven games ahead of the Crawdads in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. However, the Crawdads (33-18) moved within a game of Greensboro (34-17) for second place, which could have a bearing at the end of the season. If Delmarva goes on to win the first half – the Shorebirds now lead Greensboro by six games with 19 to play – and then takes the second half, as well, the team in the division with the next best record will take a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
Even by Low-A ball standards, this was an ugly one. On the books, Hickory walked seven, while Greensboro hit three batters and walked two. Combined, the teams – among the top offenses in the SAL – had just ten hits and went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. It took two errors in the eighth that literally gave the Crawdads the decisive run.
Facing Cole Winn, the Grasshoppers scored in the first. With two outs, Winn walked both Mason Martin and Rodolfo Castro. Crawdads killer Michael Gretler – he went 4-for-8 with four walks after entering Sunday’s game at .182/.250/.218 – singled in Martin to make it 1-0.
The Crawdads punched back with two-out firepower in the bottom of the inning. Greensboro starter Brad Case entered the game with only three home runs allowed over 55.2 innings. Curtis Terry and Sherten Apostel added two more to Case’s ledger after putting up back-to-back solo shots and Hickory then lead 2-1. Terry’s blast to left was his 12th of the season and Apostel hit his fourth.
The score remained 2-1 until the seventh, but both teams missed opportunities to add runs. In the top of the second, Winn walked two of the three he faced. However, the right-hander induced Zac Susi to hit into a double play. After Kyle Mottice walked to bring up Ji-Hwan Bae, rather than allow the leadoff hitter batting .320 to take cuts against a struggling pitcher, Mottice took off for second and was thrown out by catcher Matt Whatley.
It was Hickory’s turn to botch a rally in the third. Jonathan Ornelas was hit by a pitch, then moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on Miguel Aparicio’s lineout to right. With the infield playing in to cut off the run at third, Terry hit a ball to the second baseman Castro, playing on the shortstop side of the bag. Castro fields the ball, checks Ornelas twice at third. Seemingly daring Castro to throw to first so Ornelas could sprint home, Castro took the day and threw behind Ornelas to catch him returning to the bag.
Greensboro put seven runners on over four innings against Winn, but scored just the one in the first. Case retired ten in a row after hitting Ornelas before running into trouble in the sixth. With one out Case hit both Terry and Apostel before the Grasshoppers signaled for Will Gardner in relief. Gardner walked Melvin Novoa on four pitches to bring up Pedro Gonzalez. After talking the first pitch for a ball, Gonzalez hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Hickory soon regretted the missed opportunity when Greensboro tied the game in the seventh against reliever Scott Engler. With one out, Justin Harrer walked and moved to third on Brett Kinneman’s double. Susi’s fly ball to left scored Harrer to tie the game at 2.
Greensboro took the lead in the eight when Fabricio Macias lined a Grant Anderson pitch over the wall in left, his seventh of the season.
Hitless since the first, with one out the Crawdads got infield hits from both Miguel Aparicio and Terry. From there, the inning fell apart for the Grasshoppers. Novoa hit a routine fly to center for the second out. As the ball returned to the mound, the throw by Bae skips past the pitcher Conner Loeprich to the backstop. Alertly, while Greensboro argued as to whether it had called time, Terry and Apostel moved up to second and third.
It then got worse for the Grasshoppers. With Gonzalez at the plate, Loeprich bounced a pitch to the backstop. Terry scored on the wild pitch and when Susi’s throw to the plate zoomed past Loeprich (1-2) covering, Apostel sprinted all the way home for the go-ahead run.
Anderson (5-3) pitched a perfect ninth to close out the game.
After a day off Wednesday, the Crawdads return to action Thursday to start a four-game series at Kannapolis.