TRENTON, N.J. – Time is running out for the Portland Sea Dogs. But at least for one night, the sensation of the walls closing in came to an abrupt halt.
Sea Dogs starter Keith Couch and Trenton Thunder newcomer Bryan Mitchell were locked in a pitchers’ duel through six innings, but eventually gave way to their bullpens after allowing a run each in the seventh. After Trenton reliever Tommy Kahnle loaded the bases in the ninth inning, Sea Dogs designated hitter Garin Cecchini’s fly ball to short left field somehow found a hole and scored two runs, pushing Portland to a critical 4-2 win in front 7,436 at Arm & Hammer Park on Saturday night.
The usually reliable Kahnle threw eight consecutive balls with one out and a man on to load the bases for Cecchini, who got just enough of a 2-1 fastball to send it over third baseman Reegie Corona’s head and into left field. Shannon Wilkerson scored easily, and Ryan Dent somehow avoided the tag of Thunder catcher Gary Sanchez for the second run.
“I knew it was going to land,” said Cecchini, who stressed sticking with his approach of just letting the ball get to the plate. “I’ve hit some balls — like everyone — hard at people that have been caught in key situations, so it was good to get that ball to fall.”
Portland (64-68) is once again four games behind Trenton (68-64) for the second and final playoff spot in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division. New Hampshire (65-67) split its doubleheader, leaving the Fisher Cats one game ahead of the Sea Dogs with 10 games left in the regular season.
“It’s a huge win. We want to make the playoffs and we want to compete for a championship,” Cecchini said.
For the third consecutive game, the Thunder scored first. Mason Williams smacked a leadoff double and moved to third on a Ramon Flores groundout. One batter later, Williams scored when Jose Pirela hit a single through the right side.
Portland manufactured a run in the third. After a single by Dent and a fielder’s choice grounder by Wilkerson, a passed ball moved Wilkerson to second. Deven Marrero then tied the game with a single up the middle.
The teams swapped runs in the seventh. Christian Vazquez led off with a double, and Dent eventually drove him home with a hard line drive through the left side that deflected off the glove of shortstop Carmen Angelini.
The Thunder struck back in the bottom of the inning. Sanchez took Couch deep to lead off Trenton’s half of the seventh, crushing a 1-2 offering over all three walls of advertising in left for his first Double-A home run.