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Columbus finds offense for Suns

June 25, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Jason Columbus got credit for doing a lot of things right on Thursday, but he admits he had lots of help.

"I don't know. ... It was just one of those days where the Lord blessed me," Columbus said of his breakout night for the Hagerstown Suns.

If it was divine intervention, the Lord moved Columbus in mysterious ways as Hagerstown's designated hitter collected three-quarters of the hitting cycle Thursday to jump-start an all-around effort by the Suns in a 5-3 win over Lakewood.

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Columbus' night might have hinged on Ripley's Believe It or Not. He fell a double short of collecting baseball's coveted four-hit set, ripped an opposite-field home run to start the Suns 16-hit onslaught and even stole his second base of the season.

But most of all, Columbus' second-inning homer put the Suns in a positive frame of mind, allowing them to play with a rare lead.

"I think that is more important for the pitchers," Columbus said. "A lot of times, we aren't getting ahead and the pitchers aren't able to pitch the way they want. It makes a huge difference because we can be more aggressive at the plate."

The bottom third of Hagerstown's lineup was the most aggressive as catcher Brent Swanson, shortstop Tomas Garrido and center fielder Jon Coutlangus combined for seven hits. Meanwhile, starting pitcher Omar Anez held down the BlueClaws for the first six innings.

"We swung the bats pretty good tonight," Suns manager Mike Ramsey said. "The bottom third of the order really came through and Columbus had a good night. Our pitching did well, too. Anez did well. He has experience out there and changed speeds well."

The Suns jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second, starting with Columbus' leadoff homer to right off Lakewood starter Kyle Kendricks before Derek Barrows, Swanson and Coutlangus strung together singles for the second run.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Columbus followed with a two-out triple off the center-field wall in the third, but was left stranded.

"The Lord really had to be with me for me to get a triple," he said.

Hagerstown (29-41, 1-2) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the fourth as Swanson singled and took second when left fielder Jake Blalock misplayed the ball. Garrido followed with an RBI double.

Lakewood (33-37, 1-2) got to Anez with single runs in the fifth and sixth. Chris Klemm lofted a sacrifice fly to get the BlueClaws on the board and Jose Cortez hit a two-out single to get Lakewood to within 3-2.

Anez (1-0) left after the sixth, allowing the two runs on five hits while walking four and striking out three.

Hagerstown picked up an insurance run in the sixth off reliever Josh Paddock as Coutlangas singled, stole second and scored on Jesse Schmidt's single.

Columbus, who had singled in the fifth, missed out on the cycle in the sixth by grounding into a double play to end the inning in his last at-bat.

"I thought about it in my last at-bat," Columbus said. "I was just asking for a chance. I got a shot at it ... I can't be too picky."

Hagerstown picked up its fifth run in the eighth on Pat Dobson's RBI single down the left-field line to score Schmidt before getting thrown out at second while trying for a double. That final out left Columbus standing in the on-deck circle, robbing him of a final chance at the cycle.

Tim Alvarez pitched the ninth inning to earn his 16th save, despite allowing a run.

"This was a great team effort," Columbus said. "We got (16) hits and quality pitching from Anez, (Sean) Martin and Alvarez. That's what we need to do all the time."

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