The South Bend Silver Hawks nearly allowed an outstanding start from Eddie Romero go to waste Friday night.
The 22-year old southpaw took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, when it was broken up by an Alex Valdez single. Romero nevertheless finished with five shutout innings of one-hit ball, seven strikeouts, and three walks allowed. He only went five innings because this was a scheduled "piggyback start" with fellow starter Mark Romanczuk.
"Romanczuk's coming off surgery, so we're just building his pitch count up," explained pitching coach Wellington Cepeda before the game. The plan was to pitch Romero for the first five innings with Romanczuk finishing out the final four over the next few starts, until the two had built up enough arm strength to go deeper into games, then split them up once another starter got promoted.
Things were proceeding according to plan Friday night, with Gerardo Parra's two-run single to right seemingly providing all of the offense that the Silver Hawks would require. Parra was the first name off Manager Mark Haley's tongue when asked before the game about which hitter he would most want up in a clutch situation.
Romanczuk followed Romero's five terrific innings by pitching himself out of jams for two frames, then needed Reid Mahon to bail him out in the 8th. Mahon then got into trouble himself in the would-be final inning, and Haley called upon super-stopper Ramon Sanchez with two outs, runners in 1st and 3rd, and a 2-1 lead.
"We gave him the role of being, not the closer, but the guy who's going to come out of the pen and shut everything down if there's a problem," describes Haley.
Sanchez did allow a game-tying single before retiring the side and pitching a perfect 10th. His ERA on the year lowered to 0.71.
Designated Hitter Frank Curreri led off the 12th by pulling a single to right field. Shortstop Yunesky Sanchez then laid down a sacrifice bunt to put pinch runner Shane Byrne into scoring position. Manny Ferrer, the hero of the previous night's game, bounced a slow grounder up the middle to advance Byrne to third.
With two outs and the go-ahead run on third, leadoff batter Daniel Perales stepped into the batter's box. Although he had gone 0-for-5 up to that point, the left-handed Perales laced a single into left field, bringing in Byrne.
"He has a good grasp of how to take his AB's, understands pitch selection, understands pitch sequences, and so if they're going to throw him away he'll go with it," beams Haley. "That's a sign of a quality hitter, especially at this level. He's very polished, and I see a lot of good things in his future."
Adam Howard added his name to the list of heroes by pitching two scoreless innings to close out the game. The final out came on a phenomenal diving stop by 6'5" 240-lb. first baseman Brad Miller on a ground smash that would have retied the game. This was the epitome of team effort, and a good explanation as to why the Silver Hawks are on a roll.
Read more from Keith Glab at BaseballEvolution.com