(Photo of Ranger Suarez courtesy of Reading Fightins.)
The first encounter with the new extra innings rule in minor league baseball lead to a loss for both Clearwater and Reading on Tuesday night. The rule starts each extra inning with a runner on second base in an effort to shorten the amount of innings – and thus the game time – of minor league games.
Just four outs away from their third straight win and a chance to take the series from the Sea Dogs, the Fightin Phils needed 13 innings after Jordan Betts tied the game at three with an eighth inning single. In a true see-saw affair that went beyond the ninth, the visitors hung on for their first win thanks to a three-run top of the 13th.
The Sea Dogs opened the scoring against Ranger Suarez, who was very sharp over six innings despite allowing back-to-back RBI base hits to Tate Matheny and Betts in the fourth. After pitching just three innings in his Double-A debut on Opening Day, Suarez delivered on the hype and retired the last nine batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts.
Reading responded later in the game with three runs to take the lead in the sixth. They were patient against Portland starter Kevin McAvoy, who issued back-to-back walks to Damek Tomscha and Kyle Martin with one out. A wild pitch brought in the first run of the night, and eventually Zach Green singled home two runs off left-hander Daniel McGrath for a 3-2 lead. It was Green’s third two-RBI game in his last four.
Tyler Gilbert was the first one in to preserve the lead for Suarez, and came back out for the eighth inning after a scoreless seventh that featured three strikeouts. After putting the first two batters on base, he was relieved by Seth McGarry, who got a 6-4-3 double-play for two huge outs. Two pitches later, Betts tied the game at three with a single and set the stage for a long night.
Starting each half-inning of extras with a runner at second base, both teams scored in the tenth to prolong the game. The eleventh and twelfth didn’t resolve it, and the Sea Dogs finally cashed in with three runs in the 13th. Austin Bossart gave the Fightins another chance with a two out single in the home half to make it 7-5, but Jake Cosart (1-0) recorded the final to complete his three-inning performance and give the Sea Dogs (1-4) their first win of the season.
Meanwhile, in Clearwater, the Threshers were one strike away from a victory on Tuesday night, but the Hammerheads rallied for two runs with two outs in the ninth on their way to handing Clearwater a 5-4 loss in 10 innings at Spectrum Field.
Clearwater (1-5) jumped out to the early lead for the fourth-straight day, plating a pair in the first off of Hammerheads starter Sam Perez. Kevin Markham got it going with a line drive single to left-center, and Arquimedes Gamboa brought him home with a double to right. Adam Haseley followed with a single through the right side to put runners at the corners.
Darick Hall grounded into a double-play, but that pushed home Gamboa to make it 2-0.
Two innings later, Raul Rivas launched a two-strike offering from Perez over the wall in right for his first home run in nearly three years. Rivas, whose only prior home run had come in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2015, picked up his first RBI for Clearwater to bump the Threshers lead up to 3-0.
Mauricio Llovera kept the Hammerheads off the board through five innings in the start, yielding four hits and three walks in the no-decision. He issued a pair of walks to open the fifth, but induced a pop-out by Brian Miller, and battled through a nine-pitch at-bat to strike out Joe Dunand. Riley Mahanthen grounded into a force out at second to end the threat.
Jupiter grabbed a run in the sixth inning off reliever Jakob Hernandez, but Clearwater carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth.
Alexis Rivero struck out Miller to open the frame, but Dunand followed with a single, and with two out Will Allen roped a double to left to bring the Hammerheads (4-2) to within one. John Silviano then struck a single to left, scoring Allen to bring the teams even at three apiece.
Clearwater had a chance in the bottom of the ninth, after Jose Pujols and Luke Williams each singled to put the winning run on third with just one out. Michael Mertz (1-0) managed to work around it, when Rivas grounded to third and Pujols was thrown out at the plate. Kevin Markham then grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Jupiter cashed in on the new extra inning rule in the 10th, as Boo Vazquez tripled home the courtesy runner, Stone Garrett to push the go-ahead run across. Jarrett Rindfleisch followed with what would ultimately be the difference-maker, an RBI single off Jeff Singer (0-1) that scored Vazquez to make it 5-3.
Clearwater brought its own courtesy runner home in the bottom half after a ground out and a wild pitch scored Markham to make it 5-4, but Zech Lemond shut it down to earn his first save.