BOWIE – In a game tied at the top of the ninth inning on July 21, left fielder Chris Sharpe of the Altoona Curve was looking to make any play to keep his team alive. The Curve had scored six unanswered runs to tie the game against the Eastern League Western Leaders, the Bowie Baysox.
With a runner on base and two outs, Sharpe took a Zach Muckenhirn pitch and crushed the ball towards left field. It sailed over the wall for a two-run home run causing many Baysox players to put their heads down in disbelief. Shortstop Jesmuel Valentín bent to his knees as he watched Altoona score the game-winning runs.
“Well that one stinks,” designated hitter Ryan Ripken said.
The Baysox were riding high after winning three straight games and solidifying their 13th straight victorious series after beating the Curve on July 20. Bowie even took an opening six-run lead as they prepare to sweep Altoona. However, the Curve bounced back with two home runs and eight unanswered runs to steal an 8-6 victory in front of 2,130 fans at Prince George’s Stadium.
The result is only Bowie’s fourth loss in the month of July as they continue to rack up victories. As of July 21, the Baysox (53-45, 23-7) are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Erie SeaWolves (52-43, 21-8) after they defeated the Richmond Flying Squirrels 14-7. Only the top two teams of each division during the first and second halves of the season will enter the playoffs.
Bowie started off strong offensively, collecting two hits in the opening inning but were unable to capitalize. In the bottom of the second, outfielder T.J. Nichting fired off a deep hit over the left field advertising boards for a solo home run to give the Baysox a one-run lead.
“He’s been doing a good job in the strike zone,” Bowie Manager Buck Britton said about Nichting’s hitting. “He is a free swinger up there and once he slows the game down a bit and sees the pitches he can drive, the results show up.”
Two batters later, third baseman Willy Yahn hit a sacrifice fly to center field far enough to give Preston Palmeiro enough time to run home for Bowie’s second score.
Their hitting continued into the third inning as outfielder Ryan McKenna drove a line drive hit into the corner of the right field for a triple. Teammate Yusniel Díaz followed up with a signle into left field to bring McKenna.
After Bowie loaded the bases, Nitching hit a grounder for a force out as Díaz scored Bowie’s fourth run. A second sacrifice fly drove in the Baysox’s fifth run of the game.
Meanwhile, five days after throwning a no-hitter, right-hander Baumann started off well for the Baysox, striking out two batters and not surrounding a hit until Mitchell Tolman’s single in the top of the fourth.
In the bottom of the fifth, Ripken, the son of Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., crushed a hit to the left field wall for an RBI double as infielder Rylan Bannon ran from first all the way home to give Bowie a six-run advantage.
Slowly, Atoona began playing catchup in the top of the sixth inning after Sharple hit an RBI single for the Curve’s first run of the game. After surrendering a single right afterwards, Britton decided to pull Baumann after throwing 82 pitches.
Right-hander Steven Klimek struggled right way, throwing a wild pitch that allowed Sharpe to score from third base. First baseman Logan Hill would connect a double to left field that brought in designated hitter Jared Oliva for Altoona’s third run of the game.
Right-handed reliever Jay Flaa came in the eighth inning and struggled after striking out Altoona’s leadoff hitter Sharpe. He then surrendered a single, threw a wild pitch and walked the following batter. Britton’s mound visit did not do much either as outfielder Bligh Madris pounced on a low pitch to hit a three-run home run to tie the game at 6-6.
“The bullpen scuffled there to find the strike zone and credit to them for getting on our mistakes and not missing them,” Britton said.
Despite four hits in the final four innings, Bowie could not score, leaving the game open for Sharpe’s two-run home run in the ninth to steal the game from the Baysox.
As they prepare for an eightgame road games in seven days, Britton said the amount of games in a short time plus the travel effects will show what kind of team Bowie has moving forward. The rookie manager said he believes he has a veteran squad that will bounce back, continue developing and earn more wins to stay atop of the standings for a playoff spot.
“We were playing good baseball and trying to end the homestand on a winning note,” Ripken said. “But credit to them; in the second half of the game, they made some hits and made some plays. So credit to them on that and we just got to rebound tomorrow.”