The IronPigs sure picked the wrong time for a cold offensive spell. In Game 1’s loss, Lehigh Valley mustered just four hits in the 2-0 nothing loss, wasting a Ben Lively gem. Although Anthony Vasquez didn’t provide the club with a strong outing, it wouldn’t have mattered, as it was the same story offensively.
Lehigh Valley was manhandled from the get-go. The RailRiders, affiliate of the New York Yankees, proved why their 91 wins were tops in the International League. The first three runners in the top of the first reached base, which yielded two runs on a Donovan Solano double and a Chris Parmelee sacrifice fly. Vasquez made it through the second and third clean and was well on his way to a clean fourth as he retired the first two batters easily. The seven and eight batters reached and then former Cardinal Pete Kozma singled to make the score 3-0. Scranton’s leadoff batter, Mason Williams, singled again to increase the lead to 4-0.
Williams torched the IronPigs in the first two games of the series. He collected the game winning home run last night en route to a 3-for-4 day and tonight, went 2-for-5 with an RBI to lead the Scranton offense. Williams made his impact felt in centerfield as well, robbing Jesmuel Valentin and Taylor Featherston of extra bases with two sensational, and almost identical running grabs at the wall.
Lefty reliever James Russell entered the game in the fifth only to allow three earned runs in two innings.
Scranton cashed in with runners in scoring position, going 6-for-11
Lehigh Valley had their chances, especially early. Taylor Featherston led off the game with a triple and then the Phillies future, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams, both failed to score Featherston on weak at-bats. A leadoff double in the top of the third went to waste when once again, J.P. Crawford lined out softly to third base. Scranton starter Phil Coke bailed Nick Williams out by plunking him on a 1-2 count. Andrew Knapp, unable to come through with a clutch two-out hit, grounded into a fielder’s choice. In the first three innings, the IronPigs tallied an 0-for-7 mark with runners in scoring position.
I asked IronPigs skipper Dave Brundage whether the struggles with runners in scoring position should be credited to Phil Coke‘s approach or bad at-bats from his hitters. He explained, “Well, it’s a veteran guy facing some younger hitters. In the first inning we’d like to get ourselves a run there to come right back and answer down 2-0. When we haven’t scored the night before…guys are trying. It’s not for a lack of effort. Guys are bearing down. Sometimes you get a veteran on the mound and a young guy at the plate – he’s been around the game and has more experience and understands the situation.”
After the third inning, Coke retired thirteen batters straight, stymieing the IronPigs offense – going 7 stress free innings, scattering three hits, and striking out seven. A Nick Williams double in the ninth was the first hit recorded by an IronPig, since Jasmuel Valentin’s leadoff double in the third.
When asked if Coke did anything different from previous outings to silence the IronPigs bats, Brundage said, “I think he commanded the baseball better. The couple times we’ve seen him, we’ve got to him a couple times, where tonight, he pitched well with a lead and didn’t give us a heck of a lot to hit.”
Down in the best-of-five 0-2, Lehigh Valley must travel to Scranton tomorrow night for Game three. Brundage isn’t losing faith in this team. “We’ve battled all season. We were still grinding out at-bats in the ninth inning tonight. That’s a good sign in my eyes.” If Lehigh Valley has any shot to beat the best team in the International League three times on their home field, they can’t stop battling now.
Big 6’7 righty Phil Klein (5-1, 1.52 ERA) will look to keep the IronPigs alive for another day as he’ll toe the rubber against RailRiders starter Brady Lail (7-6, 5.07 ERA) tomorrow night in Scranton.