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Suns again fail to clinch first half

June 09, 1999

Suns vs. CrocsBy BOB PARASILITI / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Nine and a half out of 10 times, the Hagerstown Suns had Cape Fear exactly where they wanted it.

Unfortunately, Wednesday was that half-time that goes unaccounted for.

[cont. from sports page]

Like so many times before, the Suns turned a two-run lead over to the bullpen to start the eighth inning. But unlike so many times before, it failed to hold it as the Crocs scored five runs in the last two innings for a 6-3 victory, which was laced with disappointment, controversy and a protest.

"Usually when we get to the seventh inning with a lead, we hold it," Suns manager Rolando Pino said. "Now, it's only 95 percent of the time."

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The bottom fell out on the Suns for a second straight night, again ruining the impending celebration for clinching the South Atlantic League Northern Division's first-half title. The loss put the Suns (41-20) in a holding pattern with a magic number of two to secure the playoff berth.

The party was put on hold when the Crocs (31-30) came from behind with three runs in the eighth and added two runs in the ninth under bizzare circumstances. The twist of fate ruined an outstanding game by starter Taylor Smith, who put the Suns in position to end the first-half race with his seven-inning outing.

"Smitty took this game by the horns," Pino said. "He pitched his (butt) off to give us the chance to win this. It's a shame that we couldn't finish it off."

Eric Place (4-1) replaced Smith to start the eighth and was greeted with a one-out single by Albenis Machado. Tootie Myers followed with an RBI triple - his second of the game - to move the Crocs within 3-2. Thomas Pittman followed with a fly ball that center fielder Justin Davies let tick off his glove for a two-base error to tie the game.

Jarrod Kingery was called on to snuff the rally, but Aljereau Benjamin ripped the go-ahead double to put the Suns back on their heels.

Jason Hendricks led off the ninth with a home run to light the fuse for the fireworks to come.

With two outs, Machado walked and took third on an errant pickoff throw by Kingery. Myers took a defensive swing at a 1-1 pitch, which home plate umpire Greg Chittendon emphatically called strike. On the pitch, catcher Mike Kremblas rolled the ball back to the mound and the Suns left the field.

While the Crocs argued that it was just the second strike, Machado came home with no one on the field. Chittendon not only told the Suns to return to the field because the final out wasn't recorded, he allowed the run to score.

Pino discussed the call with Chittendon, who made his ruling stand. Pino then protested the outcome of the game.

"He said he didn't call a third strike, but it was obvious to everyone that he had," Pino said. "If he was wrong, it should have been a dead ball and the runner should be back on third. He said he blew the count and he went to his partner, who told him it was a 1-2 count and overruled him."

More controversy arose in the bottom of the inning, when Matt Logan was hit by Ryan Becks (5-6), but Chittendon didn't award the base because "he called the swing at the pitch," according to Pino.

Needless to say, though, the Suns let one get away.

"When we have the lead (in the last three innings), we haven't lost many," Pino said. "This is really disappointing. The guys wanted to close it out here. I wanted to close out here for the fans who come to watch us every night."

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