A steady rain sent the Salem Red Sox fans scrambling for cover several times Saturday night at Lewis-Gale Field. Wind from Hurricane Irene’s outer edges whipped through at the stretch, making the center field American flag strain against the pole. The erratic weather matched the tempo and momentum of this game, and after three hours, fifty-seven minutes, Salem beat the Wilmington Blue Rocks, 10-9.
All the atmosphere changes must have shaken both sets of batters. Wilmington ripped through Salem’s pitching inning mid-game. The Red Sox counterpunched their way out of an early hole.
Blue Rock starter Elisaul Pimental gave Salem trouble with his slow-winding delivery. He locked the Sox down through four innings. His teammates left four men on through the first three. Ryan Stovall’s solo homer at the top of the fourth was the wake-up call. The Rocks scored a total of five runs in that inning.
Salem got a run on two hits at the bottom of the fourth. A single by Bryce Brentz was bobbled by the outfielder. Brentz advanced to second on the error, and got credit for Salem’s first run. They trailed by a 5-1 count.
The next inning, Peter Hissey’s 26th steal of the season sparked a four-run inning for Salem. Blue Rocks’ bullpen got into trouble quickly. In one span, the Sox sent eight batters up. Five of them reached.
With the bases loaded, Kolbrin Vitek stepped to the plate representing the tying run. His single up the center drove in two runs to slice the deficit in half. The score evened at five when Bryce’s RBI came off the second Wilmington error. Vitek scored all the way from first.
Three scoreless innings were squeezed out by the Salem bullpen, going into the seventh-inning stretch. In the eighth, on consecutive pitches, a passed ball and a wild pitch by Salem contributed to more seesaw activity on the scoreboard. The teams kept trading punches, leaving Wilmington in the lead, 8-7.
Blue Rock relief pitcher Gary Cuervas threw two straight errant pitches of his own in the ninth, then another a few batters later, and it helped Salem stay in the game. With Vitek on second and two outs, Padron hit a double to bring him home and send the game into extra innings.
Wilmington was ahead 9-8 in the bottom of the eleventh. Derrik Gibson reached base for the fourth time in as many trips–two hits and two walks. Meneses put down a sac bunt. A throw by first baseman Ryan Stovall was off-target, though he had plenty of time for the flip to second. Instead, the ball went into right field, and Gibson scored on the error.
Heiker Meneses went to third on the play. He then tagged for the game-winning score on a Shannon Wilkerson sac fly to left fielder Caro Testa. The ball skipped away from catcher Travis Jones’ tag attempt, ending the game, 10-9.
Red Sox have only won one other game in 2011 when their opponents scored more than six runs. Both teams had 12 hits. The Sox committed two errors; the Blue Rocks, three.
Final home Saturday of the season for the Sox. Salem is not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet. Considering they are seven games behind the first-place Winston-Salem Dash with eight games to go, the chances are slim.