TRENTON, N.J. – It would have been the kind of win that could have changed everything.
Instead, it just goes down as another loss — one that may be more devastating than any of the Portland Sea Dogs’ prior defeats.
Sea Dogs cleanup hitter J.C. Linares walked on an extremely close 3-2 pitch by Trenton Thunder reliever Danny Burawa with two outs in the ninth inning Sunday to force home the tying run, but Ramon Flores’ RBI single in the 10th gave Trenton a 3-2 win that all but drove the final nail into the coffin of Portland’s playoff hopes.
The Sea Dogs (64-69) fell five games behind the Thunder (69-64) for the second and final playoff spot in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division with just nine games left, splitting the four-game series in Trenton.
“We were competitive all series,” said Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles. “But today we were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position, and they were 3 for 8. That was the difference in the ballgame.”
Trying to protect a 2-1 lead in the ninth, Burawa gave up a leadoff single to Ryan Dent, a walk to Derrik Gibson and a bunt single by Shannon Wilkerson to load the bases with nobody out. Deven Marrero grounded into a 1-2-3 double play, but Burawa again loaded the bases with a walk to Garin Cecchini.
Linares then took a 3-2 pitch just off the outside edge of the plate, allowing Gibson to score the tying run.
“There was definitely a momentum shift there, but you have to give Trenton a lot of credit, because they stayed right in there. They’ve got a strong-willed group,” Boles said.
Burawa recovered to strike out Michael Almanzar, who homered earlier in the game. That set the stage for Flores’ heroics an inning later.
After pitching three scoreless innings in relief of Keith Couch, Terry Doyle quickly ran into trouble in the 10th. No. 9 hitter Reegie Corona led off the inning with a clean single, and Mason Williams bunted him over to second base.
On one last fateful 3-2 pitch, Flores stroked Doyle’s offering hard through the middle and into center field to drive home Corona.
If there is any glimmer of hope for the Sea Dogs, it’s that five of their final nine contests will be played against Trenton at Hadlock Field, including a doubleheder Saturday.
The Sea Dogs are 9-7 against the Thunder this season, and Boles is still hopeful his team can use its remaining games against New Hampshire and Trenton to leapfrog both teams and sneak into the postseason.
“We’re in control of our own destiny, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
“We have to play quality baseball, we have to execute the offensive fundamentals. We just have to play complete games, get good pitching, solid defense, and execute with runners in scoring position.”