TRENTON, N.J. – Here’s a clue just how much better the Sea Dogs are now than in recent years: They’re even winning in Trenton.
Portland rallied from an early three-run deficit for a 9-5 win over the Thunder on Sunday, taking two out of three games.
For the first time since April 2010 – when they took three of four — the Sea Dogs aren’t limping out of Trenton. That’s how long it’s been since Portland had taken a series in Trenton, going back to when Arnie Beyeler was manager and most of the current Sea Dogs were just starting their careers.
For third-year Manager Kevin Boles, this was new territory considering Portland had lost 17 of 22 in this park until Anthony Ranaudo led them to a 6-0 shutout Saturday.
While Boles tried to downplay any personal satisfaction, clearly he likes the makeup of his 13-9 team.
“Our guys definitely played well and were very aggressive today,” Boles said after the Sea Dogs stole five bases and got four RBI from leadoff hitter Shannon Wilkerson and a two-run homer from Michael Almanzar to stay atop the Eastern Division for at least another day.
“As an organization we’re stressing being aggressive. We saw some keys and tried to take advantage of them. We’re trying to force the action. It’s nice to come in and play well on the road, but it’s a long process.”
The Sea Dogs shook off a first-inning 3-0 deficit to get two right back in the second on Ryan Dent’s two-run single before Wilkerson’s two-run double tied it 4-4 in the fourth.
“That shows the talent we have on this team,” said Wilkerson. “We’re going to be in every single game, no matter how far we’re down.
“We settled down, slowed the game down and got underneath their pitcher’s skin from that point on. He (lefthander Francisco Rondon) let his emotions get to him when runners got on.”
While the Sea Dogs were driving Rondon to distraction with their patient at-bats and freewheeling baserunning, Portland southpaw Drake Britton found his groove when it mattered most.
After some shaky defense resulted in three early Thunder runs, Britton found himself with another run — making it 4-2 — bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the third.
“That was the game changer for me,” said Britton, who proceeded to strike out Casey Stevenson, then got Al Castillo to ground into an inning-ending double play and never allow another runner over his six-inning stint. “I finally felt something click and went after it. Mentally I had to stay in the moment. Physically I told myself to just feel comfortable and start throwing strikes.”
The lone harrowing moment after that was when Trenton closed to 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh and had two on with nobody out. But Miguel Celestino worked out of the jam thanks to another double play, then Portland tacked on an unearned run in the eighth and Wilkerson’s two-run single in the ninth to break it open.
Moments later they were packing for a four-game trip to Reading, having finally taken care of business in Trenton.
“This group has been interesting,” said Boles, off to his best start as Sea Dogs manager. “No matter what the situation, the early signs are they really believe they’re not out of any game.
“We have guys who want to compete and want to get to the big leagues. When you have character like that, you can’t go wrong.”