It was a night of almosts at Bowen Field on Tuesday.
A day before his 20th birthday, Kevin Comer almost picked up his fourth professional pitching win.
The game between the Greeneville Astros and Bluefield Blue Jays almost didn't start due to rain, and almost ended in the bottom of the sixth inning with Bluefield ahead 4-1 after a lightning crash and more rain at Bowen Field.
Finally, Bluefield's Wil Browning pumped his fist as he struck out D'Andre Toney in the ninth inning to give the Blue Jays a 5-1 victory and the deciding game of the three-game series.
The start took place 50 minutes late, and the second rain delay lasted just short of an hour. Out of an attendance originally figured at 524, there were 13 people in the stands when play resumed at 10:30 p.m.
Early in the game, a man named Conner did his best to play the role of “Terminator” against the Astros.
The Blue Jays' Seth Conner drove in the first four runs. Bluefield's Christian Lopes earned leadoff walks in both the first and third innings. He and a teammate scored on Conner's first two hits, a double in the first and a smash through the hole near third base in the third.
The double drew a complaint from Greeneville manager Omar Lopez, who argued without success that Conner's hit was foul when it sailed past first base.
Blue Jays starting pitcher Kevin Comer had the game under control through most of the first four innings, recording three consecutive strikeouts at one point. The Astros got only one man as far as second base safely in that span – a double by hard-hitting Jean Batista in the first.
Batista came into the game with the league's fourth best batting average, .329.
Comer executed an athletic play for the third out of the third inning, soon after his teammates pulled off a double play. Batista fouled off three straight pitches on a 1-2 count, then bounced a ball over the mound. Comer pivoted, leaped to haul the ball in, and carefully threw to first for the out.
But Comer ran into trouble after inducing two outs to begin the fifth inning.
Greeneville's Toney hustled to record a double and Brian Blasik plated him with a single past the glove of third baseman Jorge Vega-Rosado. The Astros' third straight hit, a Batista single, ended Comer's outing one out short of qualifying for the pitching win.
The right-hander struck out five and gave up eight hits and the one run.
Justin James took over the pitching duties and got four outs, two of them by swinging strikeouts. Vega-Rosado helped him out in the sixth with a nice knockdown of a screamer batted by Terrell Joyce. The Bluefield third baseman fired the ball to first to retire the runner on a close play.
The Astros' Adrian Houser could hardly be blamed for the loss. Other than Conner's two hits, the 205-pound Houser allowed only one other hit.
That came in the third, when Dwight Smith Jr. chopped a ball midway down the first-base line. Houser dashed to his left to gather the ball in, but appeared to stumble and rolled along the baseline. He seemed to favor his left knee as he got up, but remained in the game after some practice pitches.
After Conner's second hit, Houser and his defense sat down nine straight Blue Jays. The last three were strikeouts swinging -- including Conner, who whiffed on a full-count pitch seconds before the lightning lit up the ballpark.
In 5 2/3 innings, Houser struck out seven batters, walked two, and hit Santiago Nessy with a pitch.
Bluefield relief pitcher Joe Spano replaced James on the mound to start the seventh. He quickly gave up a walk and a single, then retired four Astros with no runs scoring.
Lopes led off Bluefield's eighth with a triple to the gap in right-center, and the next batter, Smith, smacked a grounder through the middle of the infield to generate the Blue Jays' fifth run. Astros reliever Zach Dando got a pair of fly-outs and a swinging strikeout to end the inning.
Browning pitched the final inning, allowing one single and shutting the door on the Astros.
Conner and Vega-Rosado were tied for the best batting average on the team, .322, when the second rain delay hit.
Blasik and Batista were each 2 for 4 for Greeneville.
The “Toys for Tots” promotion scheduled for Tuesday's game is now scheduled for Sunday at Bowen Field.
Bluefield travels to Johnson City today for a three-day series with the Cardinals, who have won six straight games. Bowen Field opens its gates again Saturday through Monday for a set with Bristol, followed by three games in Princeton to wrap up the Mercer Cup Series.
—Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Greeneville.....................000 010 000 — 1 9 1
Bluefield.........................202 000 01x — 5 6 0
Adrian Houser, Zach Dando (6) and Ernesto Genoves. Kevin Comer, Justin James (5), Joe Spano (7), Wil Browning (9) and Seth Conner. WP – James. LP – Houser. HR – none. Att – 524.