By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Charlotte Sports Park is not an easy place to hit a home run. No stadium in the Florida State League is.
But at 343 feet down the lines and 414 to straightaway center, the home of the Charlotte Stone Crabs is among the toughest. Through the first eight home games there this season, it had only surrendered three blasts.
Then Thursday happened.
The Stone Crabs, losers of four straight and owners of an offense that had topped five runs just once in 20 games and hit just six home runs all season, erupted for four long balls in a 10-3, series-salvaging rout of the St. Lucie Mets.
Said manager Michael Johns: “You never know when an offense is going to click.”
“We’ve got some good hitters, and we knew they were going to show up at some point,” he added. “Hopefully this is a precursor of what’s to come.”
The damage was done mostly against St. Lucie starter Corey Oswalt, who had limited Charlotte to just three hits over 5 2⁄3 scoreless innings his last time out on April 21.
Mac James and Bralin Jackson hit RBI singles in the first, the latter on a safety squeeze bunt. Pat Blair hit an RBI triple and Riley Unroe added a run-scoring base hit in the second. Cristian Toribio hit the team’s second RBI triple in the third, and Cade Gotta followed it with the first home run of the night, a two-run shot.
By that point, every member of the Stone Crabs starting lineup had a hit against Oswalt, who gave up 10 while allowing seven earned runs over four innings.
Matt Duff, who relieved Oswalt, only allowed two hits over his two frames, but both were long balls: One to Jackson and another to Alec Sole, his first of the season. Tim Peterson followed with two innings of one-hit ball, but that one hit was a solo shot off the bat of Blair.
“We needed this,” Blair said. “It’s kind of crazy, but we just kind of kept the thought that, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’ And we just stuck the process.”
It was a welcome sight for No. 1 Charlotte starter and No. 2 Rays prospect Brent Honeywell, who had received only eight total runs of support through his first four starts before getting that same number in just 5 2⁄3 innings on Thursday.
The right-hander wasn’t at his best against the Mets, as the 5 2⁄3 innings marked his shortest outing in five tries on a season-high 97 pitches. But despite giving up five hits on some hard contact and walking two, Honeywell only allowed one run on a groundout in the second inning as he stranded four runners, including the bases loaded with one out in the fourth.
The Mets’ final two runs scored in the ninth after the game had already been all but decided, and only after Luis Guillorme reached on a two-run error that would have been the final out.
“I thought I was a little bit too ‘live’ for my own good,” said Honeywell, who struck out five despite struggling with command and battling a high pitch count early on. “But it makes it a lot easier, as a pitcher, when you get seven runs from the start.”
STONE CRABS 10, METS 3
HITTER OF THE GAME
Pat Blair, Stone Crabs: Playing for the first time since Sunday, the second baseman went 2-for-2 with two walks, an RBI triple, a solo home run and two runs scored.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Brent Honeywell, Stone Crabs: Though the right-hander said pitching with his highest fastball velocity of the season led to some command issues, he still limited the Mets to one run on five hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings.
Third: The Stone Crabs had been waiting nearly all season to come through with some loud hits, and they got two in the third on a Cristian Toribio RBI triple and Cade Gotta two-run home run that put them ahead 7-1.
THEY SAID IT
Right-hander Brent Honeywell: “There’s a fine line between being too live and being amped up. I felt it in the bullpen, where I was throwing and the ball was coming out a lot better than it has all year. It was tough for me to throttle back on some pitches tonight and execute a pitch.”