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Suns blank Cats

June 27, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Josh Habel just needed some air.

The Hagerstown reliever took a deep breath after issuing a walk to load the bases for Charleston (W.Va.) with one out in the seventh inning on Thursday.

After he got his oxygen, Habel got Charleston to swing in thin air to protect a two-run lead, allowing the Suns to score a 3-0 victory over the Alley Cats in the first game after the South Atlantic League All-Star break.

Catcher Brian Munhall hit a two-run home run, while five Suns pitchers combined to pitch a four-hit shutout.

The left-handed Habel, Hagerstown's third pitcher, was brought in to face Zeph Zinsman and Eric Rico with runners on second and third. Habel needed a break after walking Zinsman.

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"I just took a deep breath and tried to focus on (Munhall's) glove," Habel said. "I knew they had two left-handed hitters coming up and I didn't want to ruin the shutout."

Habel struck out Rico and got David Corrente to ground out to end the threat and preserve the 2-0 lead.

"I didn't tell him anything. He's been good for us all year," said Munhall, who had three hits. "I knew they had another lefty coming up and he wasn't going to walk two of them in a row."

Habel struck out the first two Alley Cats he faced in the eighth before walking Justin Owens and leaving the game in favor of Ben Washburn. Habel was lifted to preserve him for a spot start on Tuesday. Washburn, who got the last out of the inning, was promoted to Single-A San Jose after the game.

"Habel did a nice job - all our pitchers did," Suns manager Mike Ramsey said. "He's done a nice job for us in a couple of different roles. He's always around the plate and he commands his pitches well."

The Suns (38-35, 3-3) preserved the win for starter Merkin Valdez (5-3), who allowed two hits in five innings. Before his start, Valdez was selected to play for the World Team in the Futures Game on July 13, as part of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game festivities.

The Suns got to Charleston starter John Wesley in the second inning.

Julian Benavidez led off with a single to left and trotted home on Munhall's blast to center field for his first home run of the season.

"I average about one of those every 300 at-bats," Munhall said. "It was a first-pitch fastball. That's what I look for and they are the easiest to hit. I thought it was a good shot but I never trot. I knew if it hit the wall I had better get to second base."

After Valdez was lifted with an apparent blister on his pitching hand, the game was in the hands of the bullpen. With the shutout, the Suns dropped their team ERA to 2.96.

Hagerstown picked up an insurance run in the eighth. After Jake Wald and Munhall singled with one out, Randy Walter singled to left that Rodney Medina booted, allowing Wald to score.

Matt Palmer pitched the ninth for his 16th save, despite allowing two Alley Cats to reach base.

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