BIRMINGHAM, AL – Despite banging out 12 hits, the Rocket City Trash Pandas saw a four-run lead go by the wayside in an 8-7 loss to the Birmingham Barons Thursday night in front of 4,340 fans at Regions Field. The defeat pushes the Trash Pandas three games behind the Barons for the North Division lead and the final playoff spot in the AA-South standings.
Birmingham struck first with three in the first inning against Rocket City starter Cristopher Molina. Designated hitter Tyler Neslony started the frame with a double to right, then scored on a single to center from catcher Carlos Perez. The next two men were retired before rightfielder Craig Dedelow ripped a two-run homer into the right-centerfield bullpen to put the Barons up 3-0.
However, the Trash Pandas would respond by scoring the next seven runs of the game off Barons starter Jason Bilous, including three in the second. With one out, rightfielder Cade Cabiness drew a walk, then advanced to third on a dribbling double down the leftfield line by centerfielder Torii Hunter Jr. Shortstop Livan Soto stood in next and line a single to right to score Cabiness and send Hunter to third while Soto took second on the throw. Second baseman Luis Aviles drove in Hunter on a groundout to third as Soto took third on the play. After a walk, leftfielder Orlando Martinez picked up his first hit of the series on an infield single to short to bring in Soto and tie the game.
Rocket City added four more in the fourth to take what appeared to be a commanding lead. Aviles and third baseman Mitch Nay led off with singles and Martinez laid down a bunt single to load the bases with nobody out. First baseman David MacKinnon and catcher Michael Cruz then drew back-to-back bases-loaded walks to put the Trash Pandas up 5-3 and chase Bilous from the contest.
With the bases still loaded and nobody out, reliever J.B. Olson came in and gave up a two-run bloop single down the rightfield line to designated hitter Christian Molfetta to put Rocket City up 7-3. That would be one of only two hits allowed by the Barons bullpen over the rest of the game.
On the double, the throw from Dedelow got past the shortstop Yoelqui Cespedes and Cruz, who had advanced to third on the hit, tried to score. Barons' third baseman Joe DeCarlo, however, was heads up on the play by backing up the throw and throwing to the plate to retire Cruz. It was a big play as two batters later Hunter flew out to deep center for what would have been a sac fly had Cruz stayed put at third.
Molina appeared to settle down by retiring 13 of the next 15 batters he faced after the homer by Dedelow. Birmingham had a runner at first with two out before Molina suddenly walked the next three batters, including one to shortstop Lenyn Sosa with the bases loaded to pull the Barons to within three. Molina was taken out in favor of reliever Matthias Dietz who was poised get out of the inning on a groundball up the middle to Soto off the bat of Dedelow. But a wicked hop allowed the ball to get past Soto for a two-run single while Sosa went to third. An ill-advised throw from Hunter to third also allowed Dedelow to take second.
That play was huge because the next hitter, Cespedes, slapped a single past Nay into leftfield to score Sosa and Dedelow to put the Barons ahead 8-7.
From there, Rocket City never really threatened. A one-out walk to Cruz in the ninth brought the go-ahead run to the plate against Birmingham closer Luis Ledo. After Molfetta struck out, Cabbiness almost gave the Trash Pandas the lead on a shot to left but the ball tailed foul. Cabbiness would then strike out to end the game.
Olson (4-2) got the win for the Barons by firing three scoreless innings of relief on a hit and a strikeout. The tough-luck loser was Dietz (1-1) who allowed the winning run on two hits over 2.1 innings. Ledo notched the save (4) with a scoreless ninth on no hits, a walk, and two punchouts.
Dedelow led the way for Birmingham by going 2-4 with a homerun, single, two runs, and four RBI. Cespedes finished 3-4 with a double, two singles, two RBI and two stolen bases.
Rocket City got two hits apiece from Aviles, Martinez, Cabbiness and Hunter. Aviles had two singles, an RBI and a run scored. Martinez was 2-4 with two singles, an RBI and a run. Cabiness finished 2-4 with two singles, a stolen base and a run scored. Hunter was also 2-4 with a double and run.