By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — When you play the same team five days in a row, things are bound to get a little chippy. Especially when you add in a 150-mile drive from Jupiter to Port Charlotte between Games 3 and 4.
That was the case Thursday in the at-last finale of a five-game set between the Stone Crabs and Cardinals.
Charlotte manager Michael Johns was ejected after an animated argument with home plate umpire Edwin Moscoso over balls and strikes in the sixth inning, and and right fielder Jace Conrad nearly incited a bases-clearing incident in the seventh after he felt Palm Beach first baseman Casey Grayson made an unnecessary swipe tag on a force out at first base.
“I feel like we’ve played them for two months,” Johns said. “You really want to see another team.”
So the Stone Crabs were more than happy to see the Cardinals pack their stuff and leave Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday, especially after beating them 7-3 to take four of five in the series.
Starter Greg Harris was stellar in limiting Palm Beach (15-20) to just one run on four hits and three walks while striking out four over six innings, and the Charlotte offense broke out of a mini funk with 11 hits.
“I thought Harris was unbelievable,” Johns said. “He had really good stuff tonight, and he just kept making outs when he needed to.”
Aided by the first of four Cardinals errors, the Stone Crabs (19-15) took a 1-0 lead against starter Ian McKinney on Mac James’ RBI single in the first. The Stone Crabs doubled it in the third on James’ bases-loaded, run-scoring fielder’s choice.
The lead could have been much larger, though. The third inning Thursday marked the third time in their last six innings the Stone Crabs had loaded the bases with less than two outs, but James’ groundout gave them just their second run in those situations.
It wasn’t until the fifth that they finally capitalized, with Alec Sole coming through with a two-out, two-run single.
“That’s probably the biggest play of the game right there,” Johns said. “Because if we don’t cash that in, who knows what that game could end up being like?”
Pat Blair put the finishing touches on the rout, belting a two-run home run out to left-center field in the sixth inning one night after serving up a home run as a pitcher in mop-up duty.
Despite playing only 17 games off the bench, the 24-year-old second-year Stone Crab is now the team’s home run leader with three.
“It seems like somebody different is picking us up every night,” Blair said. “I hope that the team just keeps doing what it’s doing, because it’s really fun when we play like this.”
Blake Drake drove in a run each off Harris and relievers Jordan Harrison and Brian Miller, hitting RBI singles in the fifth and seventh innings and a sacrifice fly in the ninth.
STONE CRABS 7, CARDINALS 3
HITTER OF THE GAME
Riley Unroe, Stone Crabs: Went 4-for-5 with three singles, a ground-rule double and two runs scored to raise his batting average to .322.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Greg Harris, Stone Crabs: Twirled six strong innings for Charlotte, allowing just one run on four hits and three walks while striking out three to pick up his fourth win of the season.
Fifth: After mustering just two runs combined in the previous three innings in which they loaded the bases, the Stone Crabs erupted for three runs in the fifth on Alec Sole’s two-run single and a Palm Beach error.
THEY SAID IT
Infielder Pat Blair: “We were just on the verge of breaking through, and it’s been evident in the past two weeks. We’ve played some really good baseball one through nine. It seems like somebody different is picking us up each night.”