By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
What a way to impress those in charge.
Dawel Lugo clubbed a two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning, and the Bluefield Blue Jays scored six runs over the final three frames to shock the Burlington Royals 7-6 in the first game of a doubleheader on Friday night at Bowen Field.
Bluefield (17-10) also defeated the Royals 5-2 in the nightcap to maintain a first place lead in the Appalachian League’s East Division.
Sitting in the Bowen Field stands right behind home plate were several members of the Toronto organization, including Vice President of Baseball Operations and Assistant General Manager Tony LaCava, Director of Minor League Operations Charlie Wilson, Minor League Field Coordinator Doug Davis and roving outfield and baserunning instructor and potential Hall of Famer Tim Raines.
Also in Bluefield was former Toronto relief pitcher and current organization consultant Paul Quantrill and professional crosschecker Jon Lalande. Dana Brown, a special assistant to the general manager, was in town earlier in the week.
No wonder Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg was pleased with the win.
“You always want to play well when the brass is in town,” Holmberg said. “Sometimes when they come in a lot of players get a little uptight and tense and they don’t play as loose and relaxed as perhaps you would like to see them.”
It didn’t start good for Bluefield, with Burlington’s Tyler Chism drilling a first inning three-run home run off Mark Biggs for the 3-0 lead.
Bluefield, which trailed 6-1 after 4 1/2 innings, never led until Lugo’s final swing. Trailing 6-4 going into the seventh, Lugo — who is one of the top prospects in the Toronto system — followed a pair of walks by clubbing a 1-2 pitch off Jose Rodriguez well over the left field fence.
“We get a couple of guys on there in the seventh and we had the right guys coming up in (Mitch) Nay and Lugo and it is just getting a pitch,” Holmberg said. “You don’t expect it all the time, but you just expect a good swing and he did, probably a ball that was a little up in the zone and he hit it out.”
Burlington out-hit the Blue Jays 9-5, including home runs by Chism and Mike Mercurio in the fourth, and a trio of doubles from Alfredo Escalera, Ramon Torres and Alex Newman. Escalera led both teams with two hits.
Originally slated to start at 4:05 p.m., Biggs was prepared to throw the first pitch when a streak of lightning, loud claps of thunder and a steady rain forced a delay of 30 minutes.
While Biggs struggled from the start, Burlington starter Matt Tenuta pitched well early, eventually allowing four runs, but just one earned as the Royals committed three costly errors.
“That (delay) is not helpful either, but you know what, their guy did the same thing,” Holmberg said. “They were trying to get the most out of him, which they did and it just came around to Lugo versus their guy and our guy wins.”
That delay could have played a role in a tough start, as Biggs allowed three first batters to reach base and Chism — who was ejected in his next at-bat while arguing a third strike call — lined a home run over the left field fence.
The lead grew to 6-1, and Tenuta left with a 6-4 lead after being replaced by Rodriguez with two outs and a runner on base on the sixth.
Burlington added a run in the second on a two-out single by Andrew Ayers and an RBI double from Torres. Mercurio greeted Bluefield reliever Francisco Gracesqui in the fourth with a solo home run and a sixth run scored in the fifth on an RBI single from Chad Johnson.
Bluefield had a similar comeback on July 4 when the Blue Jays trailed 5-0 against Elizabethton, but Bluefield scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth to escape with the improbable win.
“It was similar to that game against Elizabethton, wasn’t it,” Holmberg said.
Lugo, who reached base three different ways and scored three runs, got Bluefield on the board in the second by reaching on an error and scoring on a throwing miscue by the Royals.
D.J. Davis homered in the fifth, and two more unearned runs crossed in the sixth, with Nay reaching on throwing error and Lugo getting hit by the pitch. Nay scored on a Matt Dean ground ball and Lugo crossed on an RBI infield single by Tim Locastro.
Rodriguez replaced Tenuta and induced a long fly ball to left field for the third out by John Silviano. Bluefield had other chances, including in the fourth when the Blue Jays put the first two runners on base, but couldn’t score a run.
Both teams had weary pitching with the clubs playing three doubleheaders in three nights. The Blue Jays will begin a three-game series tonight with the Bristol White Sox.
“It didn’t look good, three-run home runs are very hurtful and painful, especially in the first inning, but with five games now in three days and a sixth coming up, their pitching and our pen gets a little taxing,” Holmberg said. “We fell behind, we left a few guys out there and you just felt like that might come back to haunt you.”
Joe Lovecchio, who had a poor outing on Thursday night, allowing five runs in 2/3rds of an inning, replaced Gracesqui in the top of the seventh and retired all three batters he faced.
That proved crucial, as Lovecchio picked up the win one night after taking the loss.
“I think they did OK, we just fell behind,” Holmberg said. “We were expecting a little more out of Biggs, but Gracesqui came in and did a nice job. I think he gave up two runs in middle relief, and then Lovecchio off of the outing last night, it was kind of a bounce back and a real good inning.
“It is a funny game, you go from the outhouse to the penthouse and he picks up the win. It was very good, a good game.”
Rodriguez returned to the mound in the bottom of the seventh, sandwiching two outs around walks to Jonathan Davis and Nico Taylor. Lugo followed by working the count to 1-2 and drilled the high fastball over the fence, and was greeted at the plate by a happy collection of Blue Jays.
Holmberg said it all after the game.
“What a win,” he said, with a smile.
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Bowen Field
Burlington.....................301 110 0 — 6 9 3
Bluefield........................010 012 3 — 7 5 0
Matt Tenuta, Jose Rodriguez (6) and Chad Johnson. Mark Biggs, Francisco Gracesqui (4), Joe Lovecchio (7) and Jorge Saez. W—Lovecchio (2-1); L—Rodriguez (2-1). HR—Tyler Chism (1) 1st 2 on; Mike Mercurio (1), 4th 0 on; D.J. Davis (3), 5th 0 on, Dawel Lugo (3), 7th 2 on. Att—n/a.