Minor League Baseball: Postseason race tightens with Power loss
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Power was one out away from recording perhaps its biggest win of the season to date on Monday.
However, in an instant, everything changed.
With the Power leading 3-2 in the top of the ninth inning, Hickory center fielder Lewis Brinson hit a line drive, two-run home run that gave the Crawdads the lead. The home run proved to be the difference as the Crawdads escaped with a 5-3 victory over the Power at Appalachian Power Park.
"It was a big home run to put us in the lead late in the game against a team we are trying to catch to go the playoffs," Brinson said. "It felt good. We are just trying to end this season off right."
The Power and Crawdads are vying for a postseason spot.
The loss drops West Virginia to 35-21 in the second half of the South Atlantic League season and 72-54 overall, while Hickory improves to 32-25 and 71-56.
West Virginia saw its lead over the Crawdads drop to 11/ 2 games in the Northern Division playoff race, and by virtue of Monday's win, Hickory holds the tiebreaker over the Power should the teams end up with the same overall record at the end of the season.
The Power trails first-place Hagerstown by a half game for the second half championship, but the Suns have already claimed the first half title.
If Hagerstown holds on to claim the first and second half championships, the Wild Card playoff berth goes to the team with the next best overall record. That scenario should come down the Power and Crawdads.
"Big deal," Power Manager Michael Ryan said. "It's just like the series didn't happen. Two and two. We are in the situation we were four days ago. What makes us so good is the way we respond the next day."
With the Power leading 3-2 in the ninth inning, Brinson stepped up to the plate with two outs and a runner on second base.
The Power fans were on their feet, ready to celebrate a big win, when the lanky center fielder drilled a 2-1 offering from relief pitcher Cesar Lopez over the left field wall.
"I was looking for a fastball, and he (Lopez) threw it in my happy zone," Brinson said. "I just wanted to be hit the ball hard. I put a good swing on it and luckily it went over the fence. It was nice to shut the people up for once. They had been getting after us all series."
At the point of contact, Brinson didn't know if it would be a home run or not, and was almost too excited when he found out it had snuck over the left field wall. "I didn't know if it was going to be a double or not," Brinson said. "I knew I hit it pretty good and I knew it was going to be fair. I looked at it rounding first, and almost missed the bag. Luckily it went out."
The game looked like it would be a pitchers' duel between the Power's Kyle Haynes and Hickory's Paul Schwendel early on. Neither team plated a run through the first four innings and each team could only muster one hit.
The Power finally was able to score the game's first run on a two out RBI single from No. 9 hitter Chris Diaz in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Hickory finally got to Haynes, scoring two runs in the sixth inning but only one of the runs were earned. The Crawdads scored once off a throwing error from Power shorstop Max Moroff and a sacrifice fly from Alejandro Gallo.
The Power took the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning on RBI singles from Raul Fortunato and Diaz, leading up to Brinson's heroics in the ninth.
Haynes didn't factor into the decision with the blown save from Lopez, but pitched a solid game for the Power. The righthander had his longest outing of the season, hurling seven innings, with just three hits, seven strikeouts and only one walk.
"That was our best pitching performance of the year the way he attacked the zone," Ryan said. "He kept a powerful club off the board for a long time. I'm glad he had that outing. He is growing in confidence with each one, and I can't wait to see his next one." West Virginia begins a sixday, seven-game road trip tonight at Charleston.