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Coultas decides Suns' fate at No. 8

April 26, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Ryan Coultas caught a glimpse of the trail blazed by Grant Psomas.

The Suns' middle infielder is now hitting in the No. 8 hole in the batting order, the one that Psomas vacated with the help of his incredibly hot start. In fact, the third baseman hit fourth - out of the cleanup slot - on Monday against Delmarva.

"It would be great to start following in his footsteps," Coultas said. "He's been hitting lights out."

At least for one day, Coultas did. He turned the eighth spot in the order into a second cleanup position, with two key singles to drive in two runs - including the game-winner in the two-run eighth - to lift the Suns to a 4-3 victory over the Shorebirds.

Those footsteps must have looked like a Cha-Cha chart from the Arthur Murray Dance Studio when Coultas stepped up in the two clutch situations.

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The first instance came with two outs in the second against Delmarva's hard-throwing starter Carlos Perez. The second came with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth, just after the Suns tied the score with the help of Ryan Petrick's wild pitch to unload the bases. The grounder through the left side of the infield scored Ambiorix Concepcion with the winning run.

"I just got fortunate enough to hit with some guys on in front of me," Coultas said.

Fortunate or not, the hits did a lot for the Suns. The victory allowed the Suns to take 3 of 4 games from the Shorebirds, who entered the series in second place, one-half game behind Hagerstown. With the victory, the Suns (14-4) are in first place in the South Atlantic League's North Division with a three-game bulge over Delmarva while becoming the first team to reach 14 wins in all of the minor leagues.

For Coultas, it could mean a little bit more.

"He swung the bat well today," Suns manager Gene Richards said. "He had been struggling and had been real inconsistent, but today he did real well ... And he played really well at shortstop, too."

Perez entered the game as an imposing obstacle for the Suns. He was a hard-throwing left-hander with a 0.60 ERA. Hagerstown, which used a lineup of nine right-handed hitters, had only 56 of its 578 total at-bats come against lefties all season.

"All the teams I've worked with, I never have seen them do well against left-handers," Richards said. "Usually, the lefties are finesse pitchers, but this guy threw hard and it still didn't help."

The Suns seemed to knock Perez off kilter in the second when Psomas lined a leadoff single just over the reach of second baseman Pete Maestrales.

He took second on Jesus Gamero's bad-hop single at Maestrales.

Coultas lined a single off Maestrales' glove to score Psomas with Gamero beating the throw in to take third. Delmarva third baseman Rob Marconi tried to get Coultas, who was trying to take second, but threw the ball into the outfield to allow Gamero to score. Coultas was thrown out at the plate while trying to score a third run.

"The key to (Perez) was to be patient," Coultas said. "When we failed, we were chasing bad pitches. He was throwing up and hard. You just had to pick the right pitches and know when to lay off. Some of those chest-high pitches were looking delicious."

Hagerstown turned over the 2-0 lead to starter Jeff Landing, who gave one back in the third when Marconi made up for his throwing gaffe with a leadoff homer over the left-field wall.

The Suns maintained the one-run lead until he seventh when Delmarva scored a pair of unearned runs off reliever Rafael Cova (2-0), with the help of an errant pickoff throw and a passed ball for a 3-2 lead.

The Suns got to Petrick in the eighth as Tyler Davidson and Concepcion got one-out singles and Gamero was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Coultas laid off a wild pitch to score Davidson and then ripped his game-winning single.

"I went up there with the same approach," Coultas said. "He was drilling inside and I knew he would stay with it. I looked inside and he threw it where I was looking."

Cova got the first two outs in the ninth before giving way to Matt Miramontes after walking Jake Duncan and allowing Quincy Ascencion's single. Miramontes got Josh McCurdy to hit into a fielder's choice on his first pitch to earn his first save.

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