By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — For the current version of the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Fort Myers Miracle provided the recipe.
Pitch well and hit just enough.
In nine of their now 11 victories, that’s exactly what they’ve done. Take out the two wins in which they scored 10 runs, and the Stone Crabs have only averaged 3.1 runs per win.
And in those same nine victories, their league-best pitching staff has only allowed an average of one run per game.
That’s the recipe Charlotte followed in a Saturday night win that took just one hour and 57 minutes to complete.
It started with Benton Moss, who earned his first win of the season in the longest outing of his two-year professional career. The right-hander pumped first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 25 batters he faced, allowing just four hits while striking out seven and walking none in seven innings.
“I just felt good. (Pitching coach Steve ‘Doc’ Watson) and I have been working on command of different pitches and pitch-selection, talking about the transition from (short-season) Hudson Valley to here,” said Moss, who is now 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA across five High-A outings.
“I had a good day, and we scratched just enough across to win.”
The only run Moss allowed came on Miracle designated hitter Alex Real’s two-out solo home run in the fourth. It was the last hit Fort Myers recorded as Moss and reliever Kyle Bird combined to retire the final 16 batters they faced.
Bird earned his second save after he struck out five of the six batters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings, giving him 19 over 14 scoreless frames to start the season.
“Bird has been outstanding all year, and for him to cover those two innings — they were both awesome,” manager Michael Johns said.
Real’s home run brought the Miracle into a 1-1 tie with Charlotte, which had finally ended a 33-inning scoreless inning streak against Fort Myers pitching after catcher Nick Ciuffo singled and scored when center fielder Thomas Milone grounded into a 6-4-5-6 fielder’s choice in the second inning.
First baseman Grant Kay put the Stone Crabs ahead for good in the bottom half of the fourth inning with his second homer of the season, this one a solo shot over the boardwalk in left field. Both runs were charged to Fort Myers starter Felix Jorge, who allowed five hits and a walk while striking out three in six innings.
Charlotte only recorded two more hits the rest of the way, but as well as they pitched, it proved just enough to even the series with the Miracle.
“You never want to hit just enough. You want to put some runs up,” Johns said. “But the pitchers are so good, and the bullpen is so good, that they always give us a chance.”
STONE CRABS 2, MIRACLE 1
HITTER OF THE GAME
Grant Kay, Stone Crabs: Provided what proved to be the game-winning hit when he belted a solo home run, his second of the season, over the left-field boardwalk in the fourth inning.
PITCHERS OF THE GAME
Benton Moss and Kyle Bird, Stone Crabs: You can’t choose between the two. Moss allowed just one run on four hits while striking out seven over seven innings to earn his first win, and Bird struck out five of six batters over two perfect frames to nail down his second save.
Fourth: Fort Myers DH Alex Real tied the game with a solo home run in the top half, but Kay’s blast in the bottom half put the Stone Crabs ahead for good as the Miracle didn’t record a hit the rest of the way.
THEY SAID IT
Right-hander Benton Moss: “I give full credit of the win to our pregame ritual, which will remain secret and I will not expose the details of. But all credit goes to the ritual.”