By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Stone Crabs swept their second home doubleheader of the season Saturday night, taking a pair of seven-inning wins against the Brevard County Manatees.
The 5-4 win in the opener was action-packed as the Stone Crabs needed a walkoff for the victory, while that second, a 3-2 decision, was a bit simpler. Charlotte’s other sweep came nine days ago at home against Lakeland.
“You never want to play extra innings, especially during a doubleheader,” Stone Crabs manager Michael Johns said. “I’m proud of our guys for responding in the seventh. It looked like we were going to cruise after the sixth, and they were able to put up that two spot.”
In the first game, Jace Conrad led off the seventh with a single for Charlotte, and eventually came around to score the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly by Thomas Milone. The Stone Crabs needed the heroics in the bottom of the inning after reliever Diego Castillo (2-0) blew a save opportunity in the top half when he allowed a game-tying, two-run home run to Blake Allemand.
“If ever there were a team win, this was it,” Johns said. “Everybody picked each other up.”
Before Conrad and Milone combined for the game-winner, the big hit of the game for Charlotte came off the bat of Joe McCarthy in the sixth inning. McCarthy crushed a two-run homer — his second of the season — to score Grant Kay and give the Stone Crabs a 4-2 lead.
Brad Boxberger got the start for Charlotte in a rehab appearance for an oblique injury. It was his third outing for the Stone Crabs this week, and likely his last before rejoining the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Having the one day off instead of two was a little different,” said Boxberger, who clocked 92 mph on a fastball for a strikeout in Saturday’s stint. “Just being able to go out there and feel good was my main goal today. I feel 100 percent.”
Boxberger allowed one run on two hits — a single and double.
According to the Rays’ closer, if all continues to go well in the next few days, he’ll likely rejoin the Rays in Los Angeles on Tuesday for a two-game set against the Dodgers.
In the second game, Charlotte took advantage of a pair of leadoff walks in the first and third innings to get started on that win. Jake Cronenworth began the game with a free pass, and came around to score on McCarthy’s sacrifice fly. Grant Kay had an RBI single to give the Stone Crabs an early 2-1 win.
They got what turned out to be a much-needed insurance run from that third-inning walk. Alec Sole scored on a groundout by Riley Unroe for a 3-1 lead.
Starting pitcher Benton Moss had a strong outing in the nightcap, finishing just shy of his first complete game of the season. The right-hander (4-7) allowed two runs on four hits with a walk and three strikeouts in 6 1⁄3 innings.
“He deserved to go out there in the seventh and try to get the complete game,” Johns said of Moss, who left with two runners on base. “He was at 85 pitches so he had about 20 to work with. We wanted him to get the complete game, but we have complete faith in our bullpen.”
Brad Schreiber picked up Moss retiring the two batters he faced to strand his inherited runners and earn his second save.
STONE CRABS 5, MANATEES 4
STONE CRABS 3, MANATEES 2
HITTER OF THE GAME
Joe McCarthy, Stone Crabs: Plenty of options between the two games, as stats were spread around, but McCarthy’s homer in Game 1 was a big difference-maker
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Benton Moss, Stone Crabs: The right-hander fell just shy of a complete-game win in the second bout of the night, but led his team to get the doubleheader sweep.
Seventh (Game 2): The play of the night happened in this inning. George Iskenderian led off the frame with a line drive to left field, earmarked for a double, but a diving catch by Jace Conrad eliminated what likely would’ve been the game-tying run.
THEY SAID IT
Michael Johns, Stone Crabs manager: “You never want to play extra innings, especially during a doubleheader. I’m proud of our guys for responding in the seventh. It looked like we were going to cruise after the sixth, and they were able to put up that two spot.”