Pittsfield Suns fall to North Shore in home run derby finish
While the Suns ultimately lost Friday night, they are all looking to use Friday's result as a jumping-off point to a late-season winning streak.
The Suns rallied from a five-run deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, but could not break the tie in the 10th. The visiting North Shore Navigators went on to win the Home Run Derby to take a 6-5 win at Wahconah Park.
Two-run singles by Ivan Nunez and Kyle Cronk helped tie the game in the ninth inning. Thomas Hughes pitched a perfect 10th for Pittsfield, while the Suns got runners to first and second base with two outs before Peter Marren struck out to end the game.
"It was definitely cool coming back from five runs [down] in the ninth," Suns designated hitter Patrick Sullivan said. "To come back like that definitely gives us some good momentum."
If the playoffs started tonight, the Suns would be in, but they would open on the road against Brockton.
Friday's loss kept the Suns in fifth place, 10 1/2 games behind league-leading Martha's Vineyard, 9 1/2 games behind second-place Worcester, but only 2 1/2 games out of getting a home game in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Worcester has been the league's hottest team, going 13-1 in July. The Suns have been a lackluster 4-8.
Pittsfield has a two-game lead on North Shore and a four-game lead on Nashua.
All of Pittsfield's remaining games are against the following: North Shore, Worcester, Nashua and Bristol.
The Suns have five more games with Nashua and four more with Bristol, while playing North Shore and Worcester three times each. The Suns have had a losing record against Worcester and Bristol, are 2-1 against Nashua and were 2-2 against North Shore.
It was a home run derby that Suns manager Matt Gedman never saw. He was tossed by bases umpire Anthony Inzero after arguing whether North Shore's Elias Varinos had been picked off of first or not. It is a tough call because Inzero is stationed behind the mound, but Gedman was incensed with the call. As he left the field, he also tossed a bucket of balls on the field to the delight of the 1,714 fans at Wahconah Park.
The Suns had what they perceived to be several rough calls. There were three bang-bang plays at first, all of them going against the Suns.
In the Derby, North Shore's Sal Frelick went 0 for 15, but Dom Keegan hit five out of Wahconah Park.
Jack Culumovic hit two out over the wall in right, while Nunez hit one. Sullivan hit the ball on the screws, but could not lift one in the air before time expired.
"It's definitely different," said Sullivan, who walked twice, including in the ninth, and scored a run in that inning. "When you take batting practice, you have the cage around you. This time, it's all open. It's a little bit different of a feeling."
Nunez, who had a double and two singles in four at-bats, agreed with Sullivan that shifting gears so quickly isn't the easiest thing to do.
"It's kind of hard, because you're changing your swing pattern, trying to just hit a home run," said Nunez. "It's way different. You're trying to change your whole swing and your stance."
The momentum that the Suns hope to harness came about with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Navigators, who took a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning against Suns starter Brian Johnson, parlayed a pair of bloop doubles that were lost in the twilight and the lights and an RBI single into a pair of insurance runs. J.P. Knight's bloop double to center plated the run that made it 5-0.
Then with one out in the ninth, North Shore reliever Garrett Keough walked the bases loaded on 3-2 pitches to Hughes, Sullivan and Dave Matthews. Nunez wasted little time, hitting a 1-0 pitch to left, scoring two.
After Marren struck out, Culumovic worked a walk to load the bases. That ended the night for Keough.
Danny Ryan came on and hit Taylor Meilleur on an 0-2 count. Cronk hit the first pitch he saw to center field, scoring Nunez and Culumovic, and the game was tied. Alex White looked on a pitch that just nicked the black for strike three, and it was on to the extra inning.
Hughes, who made his eighth pitching appearance set the side down in order, catching a foul pop off the bat of Harrison Engstrom to end the inning.
With one out in the home 10th, Brian McHale walked and Matthews battled but struck out on the eighth pitch from Sean Thompson. Drew DeMartino walked, but Marren's two-strike foul tip was caught by Keegan to send the game into the home run derby.
The Suns had their second quality pitching night in as many days. Left-hander Brian Johnson gave up three runs, one earned, on only two hits. He walked four and had a career-best eight strikeouts. Reliever Ryan Towle gave up two runs in the ninth on those bloops, while Hughes was perfect.
"BJ battled through a tough [26-pitch] first inning," Suns pitching coach Brandon Shileikis said. "After that he locked in and was on point. He had that one rough inning, and it comes down to you get one bad call that goes the wrong way, and the floodgates kind of opened up a little bit.
"We were able to shut it down from there for the most part."
North Shore 000 003 002 01 — 6 7 0
Pittsfield 000 000 005 00 — 5 5 3
Navigators win Home Run Derby 5-3.
Begin (8), Keough (2/3), Ryan (1/3), Thompson (1) and Keegan. Johnson (6), Towle (3), Hughes (1) and Meilleur. 2B — NS: Knight, Olszak, Lundholm. P: Nunez. HR Derby — NS: Frelick 0, Keegan 5. P: Culumovic 2, Nunez 1, Sullivan 0. T — 3:06. A — 1,714.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.
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