By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Things did not go as planned on Saturday.
The Charlotte Stone Crabs and Lakeland Flying Tigers were scheduled to play a pair of seven-inning games at 5 p.m. The only part of that sentence which remained true was that the teams did, in fact, play.
It wasn’t a seven-inning game, they didn’t play a doubleheader and it didn’t begin at 5 p.m. After a delay at the outset, and a three-hour, 22-minute eight-inning game, the Stone Crabs defeated Lakeland 10-9, in what was technically extra innings.
“You’re never in, and you’re never out,” Charlotte manager Michael Johns said. “When you think you have this game figured out, you haven’t. It was just a great effort by everyone on the team. If there was a total team win, that’s it.”
Charlotte trailed by four or more runs twice. With the help of four runs in the sixth inning to tie the game at 9-9, the Stone Crabs were able to pull through in the eighth thanks to Alec Sole’s one-out single that scored Justin Williams.
“It was a tough night all the way around with the rain,” Johns said. “These guys have to get used to playing in it. When I made a mound visit, I told the infielders ‘In 2008, the Rays played the Phillies in worse conditions than this. In the World Series.’ So you never know.”
Jose Alvarado (1-0) entered the game for Charlotte in the fifth inning, and recorded 11 crucial outs to earn the victory. He not only stranded both of his inherited runners in the fifth, but escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh with a strikeout and ground out.
“Alvarado turned in his best performance of the year, and he did it in rain,” Johns said. “With a slippery mound, he had every reason to complain, but he just kept pitching and throwing strikes.”
Another injured Tampa Bay Ray was in the lineup for Charlotte on Saturday. This time it was infield/outfielder Steve Pearce, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.
Pearce drew a walk in his first at-bat, and slid into second base as the inning ended, but didn’t appear to re-aggravate anything. He also had to slide when scoring from third on a wild pitch after reaching base on an error.
He ended the night with a single, double, walk and two runs scored in what might be his lone rehab appearance in Charlotte.
“We had to get through one game,” Johns said. “We needed Pearce to get five at-bats. They needed their MLB rehab to go a few innings. All of that worked out.”
Charlotte put the leadoff man on base six times, and was rewarded for it in four innings, including Williams’ single to start the eighth.
The Stone Crabs had plenty of opportunities, and did a decent job capitalizing on them by the end of the night. Although Charlotte left nine men on base, it was 6-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Charlotte answered Lakeland’s five-run third inning for a 6-0 lead with a four-run inning of its own. After the Stone Crabs loaded the bases with one out, Warwick Saupold got Williams to ground into a fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning.
Just when it looked like Charlotte may spoil an opportunity, Pearce scored on a wild pitch, Alex Sole had an RBI single, and Joe McCarthy drove in a pair of runs to cut the lead to 6-4.
Charlotte starter Greg Harris allowed the six runs, giving way to Austin Sweet after three innings.
Inclement weather cancelled the second scheduled game of the night. Since these two teams won’t cross paths the rest of the season, the game won’t be made up.
STONE CRABS 10, FLYING TIGERS 9 (8 inn.)
HITTER OF THE GAME
Alec Sole, Stone Crabs: He had three hits and scored two runs in Charlotte’s win, but his game-winning single in the eighth inning is what earned him the mod-treatment from his teammates.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Jose Alvarado, Stone Crabs: The Charlotte reliever entered the game in a pressure situation in the fifth inning, and locked things down long enough for his teammates to capture the lead.
Sixth: In what was supposed to be a seven-inning game, Charlotte entered the sixth inning trailing by four runs, and needed to work some magic to tie things up. They erased that lead as they scored four runs to force extras.
THEY SAID IT
Michael Johns, Stone Crabs Manager: “You’re never in, and you’re never out. When you think you have this game figured out, you haven’t. It was just a great effort my everyone on the team. If there was a total team win, that’s it.”