By BRIAN WOODSON
BLUEFIELD — The 52nd season of baseball for the Bluefield Orioles in the Appalachian League has come to an end.
It also marked the last game in the managerial debut of Bluefield manager Einar Diaz, whose Orioles finished in third place in the East Division with a 33-35 record.
“I liked it, I like it here, and we’ll see what happens next year,” Diaz said. “This is a good league to be in, but we’ll see where I will be next year.”
Bluefield committed four errors in the four-run sixth inning for Burlington, and the Royals withstood a late rally to finish the season with an 8-7 win over the Orioles in front of 1,104 fans at Bowen Field.
Edinho Meyer clubbed a three-run home run in the seventh and Jose Kianes added a two-run shot in the ninth to close an 8-1 deficit, but fell a run short when Deybi De La Cruz retired the final three batters to end the game, and the season for both teams.
Burlington finished with a league-worst 24-44 mark.
Diaz had the Orioles in position to challenge the Danville Braves for first place just a few weeks ago, but Bluefield went just 3-10 since Aug. 21.
“The season went well until the last two weeks,” Diaz said. “We were playing a little bit over .500 and we lost six games in a row and that’s not good.
“We looked tired, you could tell today with four errors right away, but you can’t win like that. They came back in the end, but it was too late. I think they did good, but they just got tired at the end with this being their last game.”
Bluefield starter Matt Hobgood (1-2), Baltimore's first round draft choice in June, took the loss, allowing a run and five hits in five innings on the mound. Bluefield College product Brandon Holloway took his place, allowing seven runs in 1 2/3 innings, although just three of those were earned. Ryan Palsha pitched the final two innings for the Orioles.
Burlington took a 1-0 lead with two outs in the third. Derek Rodriguez reached on an infield single to deep short, and Yowill Espinal lined a shot that deflected off the ankle of Hobgood. Rodriguez, who moved to third on the play, scored on a wild pitch.
Four errors in the sixth helped the Royals pushed across four runs, and Burlington answered a Bluefield run with three more that crossed in the seventh on consecutive triples from Espinal and Benjamin Tschepikow, followed by a two-run home run from Fernando Cruz.
Keaton Hayenga (4-7) earned the win, allowing just three hits and a run in six frames. De La Cruz surrendered six runs — including five earned — in the next three innings, but still recorded his third save.
Gary Helmick tripled in the sixth and scored on an infield single by Javier Santana to pull the Orioles within 5-1. Bluefield rallied for three runs in the seventh and ninth innings, but fell a run short in hopes of finishing the season with a .500 record.
“When you lose six games in a row, that will really kill you,” Diaz said. “You want to play over .500, if you play over .500 that is good. We finished under .500, one game under .500 is not too good.”
Espinal and Tschepikow led Burlington with two hits apiece, while Cruz drove in two runs and scored two. The Royals had three errors of their own. Bluefield, which was out-hit 10-8, was paced by a double and single from Kipp Schutz, who also joined Meyer by scoring two runs apiece.
While the baseball season is over for the Bluefield edition of the Orioles, some members of the team will continue playing for at least a few more days on other teams in the Baltimore organization. Diaz said it remained to be seen if any players on this team reach the big leagues, much like he did not that long ago.
“We’ll see. Some guys are going to Aberdeen and some of them to Delmarva and we’ll see what happens from there,” Diaz said. “We’ll see how they do from here on out.”
Among the team leaders were Mike Planeta (.293), Mike Flacco (34 RBI), Corey Thomas (5 home runs) and Omar Casamayor (37 runs scored, 13 stolen bases). Bluefield’s lone All-Star was right-handed pitcher Vito Frabizio.
Danville (47-21) will travel to Elizabethton (45-23) tonight for the start of the three-game Appalachian League playoffs. The Twins will be looking for their third straight title, and fifth since 2003.
—Contact Brian Woodson
At Bowen Field
Burlington……........................001 004 300 — 8 10 3
Bluefield………........................000 001 303 — 7 8 4
Keaton Hayenga, Deybi De La Cruz and Miguel Moctezuma. Matt Hobgood, Brandon Holloway (6), Ryan Palsha (8) and Dashenko Ricardo. W—Hayenga (4-7) ; L—Hobgood (1-2); S—De La Cruz (3). HR—Fernando Cruz (3) 7th, 1 on; Edinho Meyer (2) 7th, 2 on; Jose Kianes (4) 9th, 1 on. Att—1,104.