Suns show their mettle

April 25, 2005|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Nothing tests the makeup of a team more than blowing a lead in the ninth inning. If Sunday afternoon was any indication, the Hagerstown Suns may have the makeup of champions.

The Suns withstood Delmarva's game-tying, three-run rally in the top of the ninth with gutsy pitching performances in the 10th and 11th, and Carlos Gomez singled in Rafael Arroyo with the game-winning run in the bottom of the 11th as Hagerstown escaped with a 7-6 victory and claimed a two-game lead over the Shorebirds in the South Atlantic League North Division.

It's the second character-building victory in two days for the Suns. Hagerstown (13-4) dropped a 12-6 decision to Delmarva (11-6) in the opener of Saturday's doubleheader to fall into a first-place tie, but rebounded with an 8-3 victory in the nightcap which ended in the wee hours of Sunday.


"It's a big series, especially for the kids," said Suns manager Gene Richards. "When you're on top, they're coming to get you, and it's a test of their character and their ability to withstand challenges. They're holding their own."

Arroyo - the Suns' No. 9 hitter who was 0-for-4 on the day and 2-for-20 on the season - led off the 11th with a line-drive single. Wilson Batista followed with a grounder up the middle that Delmarva shortstop Denver Kitch bobbled, allowing Arroyo to reach second safely as Kitch recovered to throw out Batista.

Gomez followed by softly lining a 2-2 curveball to right-center, and Arroyo raced around third and scored without a throw to end the game.

"I was looking for a curve," Gomez, a native of the Dominican Republic, said through an interpreter. "I wanted to come to the plate and hit something hard, and good things happened."

"That was the one that was very important," Richards said. "When you fail on an opportunity to score, the percentages start going against you, so that was important for us and important for him."

Trailing 6-3 entering the ninth, Delmarva banged up Suns closer Marcelo Perez. Matt Houston led off with a home run to left. After Perez retired the next two batters, he gave up singles to Pete Maestrales and Arturo Rivas and walked Quincy Ascencion loaded the bases. Josh McCurdy followed with a two-run single to knot the game.

The Suns never trailed, taking a 2-0 lead in the first without a hit. Batista and Gomez led the inning off with walks and each stole a base - two of six steals by the Suns. Batista scored and Gomez went to third on Dante Brinkley's sacrifice fly, and Gomez scored on Mike Carp's RBI groundout.

Hagerstown made it 3-1 in the second when Grant Psomas doubled and scored on Armand Gaerlan's single. The Suns added a run in the fifth when Brinkley and Carp both singled, and Brinkley's aggressive move for third on Carp's hit to right led to a throwing error that allowed Brinkley to score.

"We've talked to these kids about being aggressive both offensively and defensively and encouraging other teams to make mistakes," Richards said. "We put ourselves in positions to do something positive."

The Suns made it 6-3 in the seventh when Ambiorix Concepcion's two-run single scored Batista and Brinkley and snapped Concepcion's 0-for-19 slump.

Miguel De la Cruz's solo blast in the second and McCurdy's two-run bomb in the sixth accounted for Delmarva's first three runs.

Suns reliever Carlos Muniz (2-1) pitched the 10th and 11th to earn the victory. He allowed one hit and one walk while striking out four.

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