By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Stone Crabs probably had no business winning Tuesday night. Not with an offense that had only scored six combined runs over its last five games trailing by eight through two-and-a-half innings.
But the Stone Crabs scratched and clawed and gnawed at that deficit. Eight became four, four became two and two became one.
Then, somehow, almost impossibly, that eight-run hole had become a two-run lead. The St. Lucie Mets snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Charlotte, down by eight in the middle of the third inning, won 11-9.
“Now matter how many runs you get down or up, you’ve got to keep playing baseball,” manager Michael Johns said. “That’s by far the best one of the year, and maybe the best comeback I’ve ever been a part of.”
The Mets’ collapse began as ugly as the way it ended. Rehabbing Rays outfielder Brandon Guyer, 0-for-8 with the Stone Crabs entering the game, hit an RBI single in the bottom of the third inning and saw another run score as he reached third on a two-base error by Champ Stuart.
Guyer scored the team’s third run on Riley Unroe’s single, and Justin Williams cut the eight-run deficit in half when he drove in Unroe with an RBI single.
St. Lucie starter Andrew Church needed only 12 pitches (all strikes) to complete two perfect innings to start the game. In his next 2⁄3 of an inning, he allowed four runs on 35 pitches (20 strikes).
“Honestly, we just tried to have fun at that point,” Williams said. “Don’t be discouraged. Just try to go up there and battle.”
Williams called Guyer the spark, but it was the Rays’ No. 13 prospect who played the hero. That third-inning single gave him his first of three RBIs, but four runs scored off his bat, including the two that finally put Charlotte ahead.
In the fifth, Williams hit an RBI double and Mac James contributed a run-producing groundout that brought the Stone Crabs within 8-6.
In the seventh, after Stone Crabs reliever Jose Alvarado, who replaced starter Chris Pike in the third, allowed the Mets to extend the lead back to three on a wild pitch in the sixth, Joe McCarthy and Andrew Velazquez hit back-to-back RBI singles that brought Charlotte within one.
And in the eighth, after Bralin Jackson scored when St.. Lucie shortstop Luis Guillorme committed an error throwing home on a bases-loaded ground ball to tie the game, Williams hit a ball through second baseman Vinny Siena’s legs that brought in the two game-winning runs.
“We could have folded it in. We haven’t been scoring runs lately,” Johns said. “This is something that could propel these guys.”
Looking at what Pike did to start Tuesday’s game, it still seems hard to believe. The Mets abused the right-hander, who allowed a season-worst eight runs on a season-high 10 hits while walking two and striking out one over 2 2⁄3 innings.
Kevin Taylor hit a two-out RBI single in the first to start the scoring. Jhoan Urena and Siena hit a pair of two-out RBI singles in the second, then contributed a two-run double and two-run single, respectively in the third.
Overall, St. Lucie went 8-for-10 with three doubles and two walks against Pike when batting with two outs, scoring seven of their eight runs.
But Church (four runs on five hits in 2 2⁄3 innings) wasn’t much better. And as four Mets relievers combined to surrender seven runs (two earned) on nine hits over 5 1⁄3 innings, Alvarado and closer Brian Miller allowed just one run on three hits over 6 1⁄3 frames for the Stone Crabs.
“We kind of got together as a team and said, ‘This is a new half.’ We can do this,” Williams said. “We really needed that.”
STONE CRABS 11, METS 9
HITTER OF THE GAME
Justin Williams, Stone Crabs: The right fielder went 2-for-5 in the come-from-behind-win, contributing RBI hits in the third and fifth innings and plating the two go-ahead runs when he reached on an error in the eighth.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Brian Miller, Stone Crabs: Came into the game with Charlotte trailing by three and left the winner, allowing just one hit and striking out four over three scoreless frames.
Eighth: Trailing by one entering the frame, Charlotte completed its comeback on just one hit. Bralin Jackson walked, Brandon Guyer doubled and Riley Unroe walked to load the bases, and all three scored on a pair of errors.
THEY SAID IT
Michael Johns, Manager: “That was just a great comeback. Probably one of the better ones I’ve had, just personally. For this team, it means a lot to them right now. We’re starting the second half, and this can springboard a team.”