By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It almost was “the one that got away.”
The Bluefield Blue Jays led the Burlington Royals 9-1 after two innings of play Friday night at Bowen Field.
By the eighth inning, the Royals had knotted the score at 9-9.
It took an RBI hit by Bluefield’s Alex Maldonado in the bottom of the eighth, and lights-out pitching by Yeyfry Del Rosario in the top of the ninth, to wrap up a 10-9 Bluefield victory.
With the three-game sweep of Burlington (5-4), the Blue Jays (6-3) have taken sole possession of the top spot in the Appalachian League East.
Maldonado got the first as well as the last RBI for Bluefield.
After Mauricio Ramos gave the visitors a 1-0 advantage, scoring on a throwing error, Maldonado tripled to the right-field corner in the first to bring home D.J. Davis, who had pulled off an infield single on the first pitch by Royals’ starter Cesar Ogando.
“I was just trying to attack,” Maldonado said. “Sure enough, I got a (fastball) and put it in play.”
Dawel Lugo’s sacrifice fly got Maldonado home for a 2-1 lead.
The Royals tried for the tying run in the top of the second on a deep flyout to right by Des Henry. Sam Bates, who had doubled to lead off the inning, was sent toward home plate from third on the out.
Bluefield right fielder Jesus Gonzalez pegged the ball to Garrett Custons at the plate and the double play ended Burlington’s half inning.
Gonzalez was hit by the first pitch thrown by Ogando in the bottom of the second, but it wound up hurting the Royals more than the batter. He was the first of seven Bluefield batters to score in the inning.
Gonzalez and Custons each hit run-scoring doubles, and Mitch Nay blasted a home run over left field near the Bowen Field flagpole to account for three runs.
Nay said, “It (the pitch) was up, and I saw it well and reacted to it, and it went out.”
Ogando allowed four hits and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning.
Ryan Mattes took over pitching for the Royals in the third and retired nine straight batters, five via strikeouts. Niklas Stephenson followed with two scoreless innings, giving up one single.
Meanwhile, the Royals battled back, helped by singles, Bluefield errors and leadoff walks in four of five innings starting with the third.
Burlington pulled within 9-8 in the seventh when Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado laced a hit past Nay at third base which was booted by left fielder Melvin Garcia, allowing two runs to score.
Bates ripped a solo home run off Del Rosario, over the right field wall just fair of the foul pole, with two outs in the eighth for the tying run.
In the bottom of the frame, Custons drew a walk — the third consecutive base on balls for Bluefield to start an inning — got to second on a wild pitch, advanced a base on Davis’ single and scored the go-ahead run on Maldonado’s hard-hit single to third.
A double play ended the eighth, and it was up to Del Rosario and the Jays’ defense.
Garcia snagged a fly ball by Andrew Ayers at the warning track, and Del Rosario got the next two batters to strike out swinging to preserve the win.
It was the only 1-2-3 inning for Bluefield on Friday.
Bluefield was going for a home sweep after defeating Burlington 7-3 on Wednesday and 2-0 on Thursday. The two teams were tied for the division lead going into Friday’s contest.
Nay said, “Three in a row’s good. ... Now we’ve got a good streak going. We’re feeling pretty good at the plate.”
“The pitching did a great job at the end,” Nay said. “They really came through again, throwing strikes and getting them out.”
Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said, “We were having some real good, quality at-bats” at the start of the game.
“I have come to find out in the course of my career, if you score a lot of runs early, you tend to sit back in the second or third inning and say ‘We’ve won this game.’ ...
“Your momentum shifts into neutral. You’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal.”
“Give Burlington a lot of credit. They got into their middle relief and they did a great job — got us out of our game plan a little bit. ...
“But you’ve got to give our team a lot of credit for persevering, and hanging in there, and coming up with the win.”
“You want to play good for your home fans,” Holmberg said, “and I think we’ve done that in the last few games at home.”
Jonathan Davis batted 3 for 4 for Bluefield, while Lugo and Nay each contributed three runs batted in.
Burlington’s Escalero-Maldonado was 3 for 5 and Bates was 3 for 4. Each also drove in three runs.
The Blue Jays travel to Danville today for a three-game series with the Braves. Game time today is set for 7 p.m. at Dan Daniel Park.
“Everyone’s on a high note,” Maldonado said. “Let’s keep it rolling on the road.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Burlington............102 101 310 — 9 16 2
Bluefield..............270 000 01x — 10 11 3
Cesar Ogando, Kevin McCarthy (2), Ryan Mattes (3), Niklas Stephenson (6), Cruz Guevara (8) and Luis Villegas. Mark Biggs, Francisco Gracesqui (4), Adonys Cardona (5), Yeyfrey Del Rosario (7) and Garrett Custons. WP - Del Rosario. LP - Guevara (0-1). HR – Burl, Bates (8th, 0 on); Blfd, Nay (2nd, 2 on). Att - 835.