It looked like the battle of the bullpens went to Princeton. Dennis Holmberg felt it was the defense that let Bluefield down.
An error on a potential inning-ending double play ball extended the sixth inning and Brandon Martin followed with a three-run triple to highlight a six-run outburst to lead Princeton to a 9-7 Appalachian League victory over Bluefield in front of 804 Mercer Cup spectators on Friday night at Hunnicutt Field.
Not only did Princeton (18-18) climb back to .500, but the Rays also narrowed their deficit to 4-3 in the Mercer Cup series that will continue tonight at 7 p.m.
That was good news to Princeton manager Michael Johns after the Rays lost 9-2 the previous night.
“It certainly wasn’t the game we were expecting with two really good arms on the mound,” Johns said. “(Blake) Snell has been good all year, their guy has been good all year.
“They got on Snell early and we got on their guy early so I am just really pleased with the guys with the way we came back, especially after last night when they thumped us.”
Both teams hit two home runs apiece, but it was Martin’s triple to center field off Brandon Dorsett that cleared the bases and made a loser of Denny Valdez, who replaced Jeremy Gabryszwski after five innings with a 6-3 lead.
While Valdez was saddled with the loss, Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg was more upset with the three errors made by the Blue Jays. Princeton actually had six fielding miscues, but the Jays’ mistakes seemed to come at the wrong time.
“There were total of nine errors the ball game, we made three and they made six of them, but I think our errors were much more costly than theirs,” Holmberg said. “Gabby threw a heck of a ball game for five innings and you might say the bullpen a little bit, but it was defense and non-professional at-bats.”
Bluefield (15-18) led 3-0 after Seth Conner clubbed an opposite three-run home run over the right field fence. Conner started at first base, and could see more action now that Art Charles has been promoted to Vancouver.
“Anytime you lose a guy like Art in the heart of the lineup, but he paid his dues here last year and they were looking for some thump in the lineup up at Vancouver,” Holmberg said. “It’s a step up for Art…
“Seth can catch, he can play first, he can play third. We thought maybe getting him over at first base tonight, he has been swinging the bat real well. He got a couple of hits tonight, the home run was big and we’ll see what rolls out tomorrow.”
Princeton answered in the bottom of the first with a three-run home run by Andrew Toles. Bluefield then added a run in the second on one of those six errors and Matt Dean hit a two-run home run, his second homer in two nights to put the Jays up 6-3 after three.
All that damage came against Princeton ace Blake Snell, who entered with an 0.84 ERA, but left having allowed six runs and six hits in just three innings.
“I think we expect a little too much, especially me,” Johns said. “He has been dominant all year, but you can’t expect him to do that every night. He has been good, he will be fine. It didn’t happen tonight, but the guys picked him up so that was good.”
The Princeton bullpen did the job for the Rays, with four pitchers allowing just one more hit and one unearned run the rest of the way.
Princeton managed six hits and three runs off Gabryszwski, but quickly jumped on Valdez in the sixth with a single by Toles and a two-run blast from Soriano over the left field fence. One out later, Oscar Hernandez singled and Darryl George walked, and Holmberg went to the bullpen again to bring in Dorsett, whose sidearm motion has bothered the Rays all season.
“Getting that six-run sixth, we had some really good at-bats against a sidearm guy that we have struggled with so I was really pleased with them,” Johns said. “The guys showed some heart tonight and I was really pleased with the team effort.”
Dorsett’s induced a hard ground ball by James Harris Jr. to Christian Lopes near second, but he let the ball deflect off his chest to load the bases. That proved to be a pivotal play in the game.
“The ground ball double play to Lopes behind Dorsett gets us out of the inning,” Holmberg said. “Valdez gave up the single and the home run, didn’t help the cause. We ere trying to get an inning, maybe two out of him, but it was a ball game that we really just beat ourselves.
“It is discouraging, but again there has to be an accountability factor of playing good defense and all these guys have been told time and time again...If you are playing up the middle or you are playing on the corners you have got to play defense and that let us down tonight.”
Martin followed, first with a line shot that nearly decked Johns near the third base coaches’ box, and then connected with a pitch and drove it past a hustling Smith to the center field fence. All three runs scored and Martin stopped at third. He would also score on a sacrifice fly by Reid Redman.
“That was huge, he did a good job,” said Johns, whose Rays sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning, scoring six runs on five hits, a walk and an error. “The first ball he hit almost hit me, he stayed in there and tried to go the other way and shot a triple in the gap so that was the big play of the game and Soriano’s two-run home run in that inning was huge. I am really proud of our guys.”
Bluefield scored a run in the seventh on a pair of errors, and had runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth, but Nick Sawyer struck out his third batter in the inning to pick up the save.
Conner led Bluefield with a home run, double and three runs batted in, while Jorge Vega-Rosado contributed two hits and Dean — who had two errors in the game — drove in two runs.
Princeton, which out-hit Bluefield 12-7, received solid bullpen contributions from Alex Keudell, Randy Davis, Zach Butler and Sawyer. Davis improved to 2-0, while Sawyer got his first save. The Rays were paced at the plate by Martin and Toles, who had two hits and three RBIs apiece.
Bluefield managed just an eighth inning double by Conner after the third inning. He had two hits and three RBIs, while Jorge Vega-Rosado added two hits and Dean drove in two runs. He also had two errors.
“We beat ourselves tonight, we talk about protecting the baseball and making the plays,” Holmberg said.
“We had some very non-professional at-bats tonight, chased a lot of balls out of the strike zone.
“We talk about having good at-bats, professional at-bats, but it was that and a combination of the errors.”
Both Princeton and Bluefield will host clinics for children this morning, and will meet in the eighth of 11 Mercer Cup games tonight in Princeton. Deivy Estrada will start on the mound for the Jays, while the Rays will counter with Breudlin Suero.
— Contact Brian Woodson
At Hunnicutt Field
Bluefield……….........…312 000 100 — 7 7 3
Princeton………....……300 006 00x — 9 12 6
Jeremy Gabryszwski, Denny Valdez (6), Brandon Dorsett (6), Will Browning (8) and Santiago Nessy. Blake Snell, Alex Keudell (4), Randy Davis (5), Zach Butler (7), Nick Sawyer (9) and Oscar Hernandez. W—Davis (2-0); L—Valdez (0-1); S—Sawyer (1). HR—Seth Conner (2), Andrew Toles (2), Matt Dean (2), Ariel Soriano (1). Time: 2:49; Att— 804.