TRENTON, N.J. – For the Portland Sea Dogs to make a playoff push in the final two weeks of the Eastern League season, they’ll need to start overcoming some adversity. Starting pitcher Henry Owens provided an unexpected dose Thursday night, but an unlikely hero emerged from the bullpen to give the Sea Dogs a chance to win.
After Owens couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, Pete Ruiz’s stellar relief performance and Deven Marrero’s two-out RBI single in the sixth propelled Portland (63-67) to a critical 4-2 win over the Trenton Thunder (67-63) in front of 5,805 fans at Arm & Hammer Park.
“I stunk,” Owens said. “My fastball stunk, change-up stunk, I couldn’t command my curveball. Fortunately, my teammates picked me up.”
It was apparent early that Owens didn’t have his best stuff. Trenton took a 1-0 lead in the first inning without a hit. Owens issued consecutive one-out walks to Ramon Flores and Jose Pirela. After highly touted catching prospect Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center to move Flores to third, Flores scored on the second passed ball of the inning by Christian Vazquez.
Portland struck back in the top of the second when Michael Almanzar hit a long home run off Nik Turley. The Sea Dogs took the lead an inning later. Turley hit Garin Cecchini with one out and subsequently balked him over to second base on a pick-off attempt with J.C. Linares at the plate. Linares then stroked the first pitch he saw to center field, scoring Cecchini.
But then the wheels fell completely off for Owens. Three walks on a total of 15 pitches — including a four-pitch free pass to No. 8 hitter Jose Gil with the bases loaded — and a single knocked him out of the game in favor of Ruiz, who had quite a mess to clean up. But the 26-year-old righty, who entered the game with a 5.32 ERA, got some help immediately when Vazquez picked off Carmen Angelini at third base on a close call, which so infuriated Trenton Manager Tony Franklin that he was ejected for arguing with umpire Blake Felix.
“Christian helped me out early by picking that guy off, but that’s a situation where you can’t really think about what the situation is,” Ruiz said. “You’ve just got to come in, throw strikes and establish that I’m going to attack hitters and force contact and see what happens.”
Ruiz struck out Reegie Corona and got Mason Williams to line out sharply to first baseman Travis Shaw to somehow escape the jam with no more damage, keeping the game tied at 2-2.
Portland then took advantage of 31/3 hitless innings by Ruiz.
With the win, the Dogs pulled within four games of Trenton for the second and final playoff spot in the Eastern Division.
“It’s huge,” Ruiz said. “We know where we stand and we know what we have to do. To come in here and to take Game 1 and to let them know that we’re here.
“I think we set the tone and sent a message that we’re going to compete and give you everything we have.”