NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – Curt Smith, the former University of Maine shortstop, hit a two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning Saturday night as the New Britain Rock Cats rallied for a 5-4 victory against the Portland Sea Dogs before 4,528 in a rain-delayed game at New Britain Stadium.
The comeback spoiled a strong outing by Matt Barnes of Portland, the former University of Connecticut pitcher who allowed one run and three hits over five innings in his return to his home state.
Tony Thomas’ RBI triple gave the Sea Dogs a 1-0 lead in the first and Chris Vazquez’s two-run single made it 4-1 in the third.
Barnes yielded only a home run to Josmil Pinto leading off the second. Barnes walked three and struck out seven. In his last appearance in New Britain in April, Barnes allowed five runs and six hits in 21/3 innings
“Playing in New Britain is fun; obviously I get to see everybody,” Barnes said, “but I think more important is that I’m able to put together a string of good starts and be consistent now.”
The game featured two highly regarded young pitchers. Barnes, 22, Boston’s first-round draft pick in 2011, faced Alex Meyer, 23, of New Britain, the top pitching prospect in the Twins’ system, according to Baseball America.
Barnes, who walked three and struck out seven, continued his hot stretch, but Meyer (2-2) labored, throwing 104 pitches in five innings.
While Meyer’s fastball topped out at 97 mph, he surrendered four runs and seven hits, with four walks and seven strikeouts. Meyer also was hit in the leg with a line drive from Michael Almanzar in the third.
In his last three starts, Barnes, the 2011 Big East pitcher of the year, has been dominant, yielding two earned runs and 11 hits over 17 innings.
“I thought he had to work through a couple of jams,” Portland Manager Kevin Boles said. “They worked a couple of counts but I thought (Barnes) did a great job. His fastball was crisp and he had a real good feel for the breaking ball.
“He’a a guy that attacks hitters. We love his stuff, his frame, everything about him. He’s as advertised. He has a pretty impressive arm.”
But he came away with nothing to show for the effort when the Rock Cats scored once in the sixth as a wild Daniel Bard replaced Barnes and issued four walks to force in a run, then added three runs in the eighth off Miguel Celestino (0-1).
After Danny Santana brought in a run with a groundout, Dan Rohlfing doubled and scored on Smith’s homer to right-center that gave the Rock Cats a 5-4 lead.
“Celestino was throwing the ball very well,” Boles said. “It looked like he had real good stuff tonight and Smith put a real good pass on the ball. Catching up to 96, 97, that’s pretty impressive.”
“That’s the game of baseball,” Barnes said. “It happens sometimes. We’ll get back out there (Sunday) and get a ‘W before we leave (New Britain).”
Bruce Pugh (1-0), the third of the four New Britain pitchers, earned the win with a scoreless eighth.
The start of the game was delayed 46 minutes and lasted 3 hours, 18 minutes.