BOWIE – It was time.
Those were the thoughts going through the mind of Bowie Baysox infielder Jesmuel Valentín during his 12th inning at-bat against the Harrisburg Senators on April 14. The Puerto Rican joined the Baltimore Orioles’ affiliate on April 11 after signing a minor league contract and saw the potential from his new teammates despite playing through a three-game losing streak.
With a game-winning run sitting on third, Valentín ripped a line drive into deep left field over a leaping Adrían Sanchez. As Martin Cervenka trotted home to solidify the win, the Baysox players surrounded Valentín, thanking him for providing something they longed craved: a win.
“We are trying to get back on track,” Valentín said. “We talked about it in practice, and I wanted to bring a run in, but I wanted to limit movement, limited doing too much and try to stay simple as I can. I had a pitch I can drive (on), so I had to stay short with it and find a hit. That’s one of the things I have to do in my first week and build it up from there.”
After spending their first seven games on the road to start the 2019 season, Bowie looked to find their winning ways in a home-opening series against the Senators. However, they slipped into a three-game losing streak. Valentín’s walk-off single was the jolt the Baysox needed to end their weekend on a high note as they won 5-4 in 12 innings in front of 2,349 in Prince George’s Stadium.
The victory was something that Bowie was building towards after giving up a no-hitting on opening day on April 11. In their next two games with the Senators, the Baysox matched their opposition in terms of hits but did not have the run support to earn results. New manager Buck Britton said his team is young and but bounced back quickly after the opening day shutout.
“Anytime you can win a ball game, it is important,” Britton said. “The guys did a good job battling throughout down three early, and they just kept grinding away early.”
Bowie struggled defensively early with right fielder Ryan McKenna’s attempted sliding catch on a Sanchez fly ball slipped out of his glove and rolled onto the grass. Two batters later, with the bases loaded, McKenna once again was unable to handle a pop-up as the ball landed in front of him in right field as a Harrisburg run scored.
In the second inning, with runners on the corner bases, Sanchez fired a single into left field to drive in Harrisburg’s second run, expanding their lead. Starting pitcher, Zac Lowther threw his second strikeout to close the inning and limit the damage.
A pitching change in the fifth inning brought in left-hander Brian Gonzalez. Aside from surrendering a solo home run to Rhett Wiseman, the 23-year old had a solid pitching night and did not allow another hit. He finished a four-inning performance with two strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
“(Gonzalez) was the player of the game right there,” Britton said. “He shut it down for us and allowed us to get back in the game.
Outfield Ademar Rifaela earned Bowie’s first hit of the game in the bottom of the fifth, but they were unable to capitalize. The Baysox bats resurrected in the bottom of the sixth after Valentín walked. Two consecutive singles loaded the bases for Orioles catcher Austin Wynns, who is on a rehab assignment after a left oblique strain during the preseason.
Wynns fired a booming hit towards left field for an RBI double, driving in two baserunners and bringing the deficit down a run. The 28-year old has fulfilled three different stints with Bowie before going to the majors last season and said that he’s happy to contribute to his former ball club.
Harrisburg looked poised to add to their lead after Long Beach, California native Zach Collier powered a triple to center field at the top of the ninth inning. However, the crisis was quickly averted when second baseman Bryan Mejia grounded out, leaving a one-score deficit for Bowie to climb.
Rifaela quickly responded for the home team as he crushed a pitch to deep left field for a solo home run to send the game into extra innings.
“I knew we were in a tough position,” Rifaela said in Spanish. “It is the ninth inning and down an out. I am a contact hitter, and it knew I just had to get the ball in play. What ended up happening was a home run. It raised our spirits up and caused a beautiful reaction in the dugout after I rounded the bases.”
Both teams used sacrifice flies to drive in a run apiece in the 10th, but Harrisburg was unable to score again. After failing to take advantage of an extra man on base in the 11th, Bowie quickly responded in the following inning when Preston Palmeiro used a sacrifice bunt to move base runner Cervenka to third base, setting up Valentín’s game-winning hit.
The season is young, and Bowie will bounce back from their early-season troubles, Britton said. They will look to continue their turnaround as they host the Erie SeaWolves for a three-game homestand starting on April 15 before going on a six-game road trip.
“We are getting better now,” Rifaela said. “And that is baseball. We are starting to come out, and we are a young team with hunger and a lot of talent, and we are going to our baseball do the talking moving forward.”