Mother, what a day it was for the Portland Sea Dogs.
They watched a five-run lead evaporate before staging a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth for a 13-12 victory over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats before an announced crowd of 4,262.
Heiker Meneses was the hero. His one-out single to left field scored Carlos Rivero with the winning run.
He planned to celebrate with a call home to Venezuela.
“I want to say to my mom this game was for her,” Meneses said.
Actually, anyone who treated their mothers to a ticket made a good investment Sunday.
The holiday weather was gorgeous – 72 degrees, blue skies and a 14 mph breeze flowing toward right field. And there was plenty of action to be seen while soaking up the sun for 3 hours, 36 minutes. The teams combined for 37 hits, three errors, two wild pitches, a passed ball and a balk. The lead changed hands six times in the middle innings.
Ultimately, it was Portland’s ability to draw walks that won the day. The Sea Dogs worked the count for nine free passes, as opposed to only one for New Hampshire (15-20).
The decisive rally began with Portland’s top of the order drawing three consecutive walks.
Rivero grounded a single into right field to score two runs. Henry Ramos was called safe on an error while executing a sacrifice bunt. A Matt Spring sacrifice fly tied the score and left runners on first and third for Meneses.
“Guys obviously saw the ball well,” Portland Manager Billy McMillon said. “I think the big thing is that no one panicked. Down three in the ninth inning is when you really want guys to have their focus, and we had that today.”
Focus was a problem for Portland’s first two pitchers, however. Mickey Pena couldn’t hold a 5-0 lead and ended up giving up seven runs, six earned, in four innings. He failed to record a strikeout despite entering the game third in the Eastern League with 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
McMillon said Pena paid for not being able to establish a curveball or change-up to complement his fastball.
Mike McCarthy came on to allow five more runs in his two innings. Finally, Jose Valdez and Robby Scott combined for three shutout frames to keep the Sea Dogs close. Scott ran his record to 4-1, thanks to Meneses’ clutch single.
Meneses was sent down from Triple-A Pawtucket on April 26. His primary value is as a strong defender at all infield positions. He was even the emergency backup catcher should something have happened to Spring on Sunday.
“He’s been giving us pretty good defense and his bat’s starting to come around a little bit,” McMillon said of Meneses, who played third base Sunday. “Just being a super utility guy is going to be the thing that helps him the most.”
Meneses had three groundouts and a strikeout to show for his first four at-bats Sunday. He stranded a whopping seven runners before singling in the eighth inning. But Portland (22-12) didn’t score that time.
In the ninth, Meneses got his atonement.
Dustin Antolin threw him two sinkers and a slider. The fourth pitch was another sinker, and Meneses lifted a line drive over the shortstop.
“I just tried to put the ball in play. Forget the RBI,” he said after raising his average to .261 with the Sea Dogs.
“I just see the contact and when I get to first base everyone is celebrating. It was a long game. We tried to win this game for the mothers.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: