HAGERSTOWN — The Hagerstown Suns had a little fun at Blake Kelso’s expense on Sunday.
The third baseman didn’t mind. He took the verbal jabs like he was fielding grounders. After all, Kelso provided the very thing the Suns needed to have the last laugh.
Kelso became fair game and a hero in one swing of the bat with a third-inning grand slam to put the Suns ahead for good in a wild 12-11 victory over Lexington on Sunday before a Mother’s Day crowd of 1,008 at Municipal Stadium.
The victory gave the Suns (20-10) a half-game lead over Hickory in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.
At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Kelso admits he isn’t a home run hitter, which was the basis of some of the barbs — that and a fortunate blast of wind pushing out his first homer of the season. Yet, it was almost fitting in a game where the Suns (20-10) fell behind 4-0 before their first at-bat before chasing Lexington (16-14) down in the third inning to gain tenuous control of the game.
“I thought I hit it decent,” Kelso said. “I thought it was going to be a sacrifice fly or off the wall.”
Instead, Kelso got help from a prevailing wind blowing to right to cash in with the game-changing shot.
The Suns were locked in a 7-7 tie entering the bottom of the third against Lexington reliever Yordany Ramirez. Jason Martinson led off with a single to left and took third on Cole Leonida’s one-out single to right before Michael Taylor worked a walk to load the bases. Kelso cleared the bases and gave the Suns an 11-7 lead by driving Ramirez’s 1-1 pitch.
It was Hagerstown’s second grand slam of the series — David Freitas hit one on Thursday in an 8-2 win — and sent the Suns to their ninth win in 10 games.
“He got ahead of me and then missed high,” Kelso said. “He threw a slider and left it up and I tried to barrel up on the ball.”
The grand slam gave the Suns some house money to spend in the form of the four-run lead. They needed every cent of it.
Lexington roughed up Hagerstown starting pitcher Chris McKenzie for four runs in the first inning and seven in the two-plus innings he worked. The Legends’ first three batters of the game all scored, as Delino DeShields Jr. singled, Jiovanni Mier belted an RBI double and Adam Bailey hit a two-run homer. Tyler Burnett added an RBI double to cap the first-inning rally as Lexington sent eight hitters to the plate.
The Suns got two runs back in the bottom of the first off starter Brad Dydalewicz. Kelso led off with a walk and took third on an errant pickoff throw before scoring on Adrian Sanchez’s double to right. Sanchez scored with the help of groundouts by Bryce Harper and Freitas.
Lexington scored once in the second before the Suns came back with five in the bottom half to take a 7-5 lead. Taylor smashed a three-run homer, Harper added an RBI double and Freitas capped the rally with an RBI groundout.
Harper extended his hitting streak to 12 games. The Washington Nationals’ top prospect finished with two hits to raise his average to .371.
Lexington chased McKenzie in the top of the third after he put the tying runs on base. Paul Applebee entered in relief and allowed Emilio King — who finished with four RBIs — to stroke a two-run single to tie the game and set the stage for Kelso.
The Legends got within 11-9 with two runs in the sixth, highlighted by a leadoff homer to left by DeShields off Applebee.
The Suns got one of the runs back in the bottom of the inning when Martinson drew a two-out walk off Lexington reliever Jason Chowning, stole second and took third on catcher Roberto Pena’s errant throw before scoring on Mills Rogers’ single.
King hit a two-run homer in the eighth off Sam Brown to get Lexington within a run. Hagerstown called on Chris Manno to pitch the final two innings for his fourth save, preserving the victory for Applebee (2-1).
Sanchez and Leonida each had two hits for the Suns. The comeback was another example of Hagerstown’s trademark of not going down without a fight.
“I don’t know anyone who likes to lose,” Kelso said. “We play together and we have great chemistry. This was a battle, but it was a big win.”