If the next 10 games in the Mercer Cup Series have as many plot twists as Tuesday’s premiere contest, it will be a memorable run of games indeed.
Wil Browning struck out the two Princeton batters he encountered in the bottom of the ninth, with Rays waiting on first and second, to make a 5-4 lead hold up and give the Bluefield Blue Jays the first victory in the annual series between the neighboring ballclubs on Tuesday night in front of a crowd announced at 1,176.
The Blue Jays dashed to a 4-0 lead, only to have the Rays score the next four to tie things up.
The quick, fierce release of Bluefield starter Roberto Osuna held Princeton to four hits in the first four innings.
Two of those hits were doubles that ended badly at third base. Andrew Toles tried to turn his into a triple in the top of the first and was thrown out at third base. Willie Argo doubled to start the second, but was caught stealing.
Princeton left-hander Kevin James handled the first inning, but as he took the mound for the second, he appeared to have a problem with his left hand. He examined his fingers, blew on them, consulted with the trainer and went back out to try again.
With a resigned negative shake of his head, he left the game and Hugo Duarte filled in.
The home fans cheered after back-to-back doubles from Eric Arce and Dickie Joe Thon produced the game’s first run. Duarte uncorked two wild pitches to allow Thon to reach third base and then home for a 2-0 lead after two innings.
Christian Lopes doubled to open the Bluefield half of the fourth inning and Arce smashed his fourth home run of the summer over the right-field wall for a 4-0 margin.
In the fifth, Princeton began its rally off relief pitcher Kevin Comer. John Alexander doubled and scored on a groundout by James Harris Jr.
The Rays’ Reid Redman led off the next frame with a double. He scored on Ariel Soriano’s single to left, and Soriano brought the score to 4-3 when he came home on Oscar Hernandez’ sacrifice fly.
Redman tripled in the eighth and tied the game when he dashed to the plate on a wild pitch.
Bluefield got the final run in its half of the eighth. Alex Azor doubled to left field, and Art Charles’ single to right plated Azor. It was the only hit of the game for both players. The loss went to closer Alex Keudell, who allowed only those two hits in 1 1/3 innings.
Comer got his second win though he allowed seven hits and four runs, three of them earned, in 4 1/3 innings. Browning earned his first save of the year.
The game included five doubles by the Blue Jays and four by the Rays. Bluefield’s Jorge Vega-Rosado was 2 for 3 at the plate and Arce was 2 for 4. Princeton got a 2-for-3 performance from Redman and Darryl George went 2 for 4.
The Mercer Cup Series continues today and Thursday at Bowen Field, Friday in Princeton and Saturday back in Bluefield.
At Bowen Field
Princeton..........000 012 010 — 4 11 1
Bluefield...........020 200 01x — 5 8 1
Kevin James, Hugo Duarte (2), Randy Davis (6), Alex Keudell (7) and Oscar Hernandez. Roberto Osuna, Kevin Comer (5), Wil Browning (9) and Santiago Nessy. WP – Comer (2-1). LP – Keudell (1-2). Save – Browning (1). HR – Blfd, Arce (4), 4th, 1 on. Time – 2:27. Att – 1,176.