PORTLAND – Having already whiffed in his first two trips to the plate, Portland Sea Dogs catcher Matt Spring wasn’t thrilled about falling behind 0-2 in his third at-bat.
He took a deep breath, focused on Harrisburg right-hander Nathan Karns and watched seven more pitches. The balls he let go. The strikes he fouled off.
He struck the 10th pitch solidly, sending a tiebreaking home run off the Citgo sign above the 37-foot fence in left field to give the Sea Dogs a 3-2 Eastern League victory over the Harrisburg Senators on a damp Sunday afternoon at Hadlock Field.
“As you get into seven, eight, nine pitches, you’ve seen all of what he’s got,” Spring said. “It’s a little bit of a refreshing feeling, but he wants to get you out just as bad as you want to get a hit. He’s not going to let down at all and neither am I. So I was glad I was able to come out on top.”
The victory salvaged a split of the four-game series after Harrisburg won the first two games. Following Saturday’s sun-splashed 5-2 victory at Fenway Park, the Sea Dogs showed no letdown in Sunday’s off-and-on drizzle.
“Coming back to some dreary weather after the excitement from (Saturday in Boston), you just battle through it,” said reliever Jeremy Kehrt (1-3), who earned the decision despite allowing two hits and two walks in his two innings of relief.
The West Division-leading Senators doubled Portland’s hit total (10-5) and drew six walks, but they stranded 11 runners against Terry Doyle, Kehrt and Noe Ramirez, who earned his second save by retiring six of Harrisburg’s final seven batters.
“They did some good things as far as pitching from the stretch, wiggling out of jams and executing pitches when they needed to,” Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said of Doyle and Kehrt. “We played solid defense behind them, too. The conditions weren’t ideal and they took care of the baseball.”
Three big defensive plays prevented Harrisburg from breaking it open.
The Senators took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a two-out double by Brian Jeroloman and looked to add to it in the third. Justin Bloxom followed a Jose Lozada double with a drive to left, but Tony Thomas made a sliding catch in the corner.
That allowed the Sea Dogs to take a 2-1 lead in the home half on a Thomas sacrifice fly and a Karns wild pitch. Derrik Gibson started the rally with a double inside the bag at third, and Garin Cecchini (two walks) scored on the wild pitch.
Harrisburg threatened again in the fourth when Destin Hood attempted to score from second base on a two-out single to right by Brian Goodwin. The throw home from J.C. Linares arrived on the fly, and in plenty of time for Spring to tag Hood.
“As soon as I give up the hit, I’m thinking that’s a run,” said Doyle, whose parents, sisters and grandmother drove up from Warwick, R.I., for the game, “but J.C. made a great throw.”
Doyle yielded eight hits and walked three in five innings. Karns (7-4) went the distance for Harrisburg, striking out eight and walking four.
Consecutive walks to open the Harrisburg fifth put Doyle in danger, particularly when designated hitter Jimmy VanOstrand ripped the ball toward Sea Dogs third baseman Michael Almanzar.
“I wasn’t thinking triple play,” said Almanzar, who short-hopped the ball near his right foot, took a few steps to get the force at third, then looked toward first before realizing he had plenty of time for the force at second. “I was thinking (VanOstrand) was going to bunt.”
The relay by second baseman Ryan Dent was not in time to complete the first triple play in a franchise history that includes 2,793 games, but the double play certainly short-circuited the Senators.
“I thought we were going to get it,” Spring said. “If (VanOstrand) wouldn’t have run hard, we would have had him.”
Kehrt issued four-pitch walks to the leadoff batter in each of his two innings. He defused the first situation with a double-play grounder in the sixth, but he gave up a tying two-out single to Carlos Rivero in the seventh.
That set the stage for Spring’s long and ultimately successful battle with Karns to open the home seventh.
“To settle into that at-bat and to grind it out the way he did,” Boles said, “and to finally square one up, that was a big hit for us.”
NOTES: Paid attendance was announced as 6,871. … The home run was Spring’s ninth of the season. … Doyle, a New Hampshire native who earned degrees in math and elementary education at Boston College, is a substitute math teacher in Rhode Island in the offseason. … Only one Eastern League game is scheduled for Monday, involving Erie and Reading. The Sea Dogs fly to Richmond, Va., for a three-game series against the Flying Squirrels, followed by another three games at Bowie, Md. The hitting coach in Richmond is Portland native Ken Joyce. … Only 13 home dates remain for the Sea Dogs, who return to Hadlock on Aug. 6 for six more games with Richmond and Bowie.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: