BOWIE, Md. - With the Prince George’s Stadium crowd cheering loudly for a strikeout in the top of the seventh to get Double-A Bowie out of big jam, Trenton instead got a run - and the batter didn’t have to do a thing.
Trenton got the lead in a manner not often seen in baseball anymore. A steal of home.
It led Baysox lefty Alex Wells to a very tough luck loss as the Thunder beat Bowie 2-1 tonight to take a 2-1 lead in games in the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series. Bowie will host Game 4 in a must-win situation on Friday night.
In a 1-1 tie in the Trenton seventh, Wells allowed three straight singles to load the bases with none out. Then he almost got out of that without allowing a run. He fanned the next two hitters and was ahead of the third with a 1-2 count. With the crowd cheering for another strike and an amazing escape act to keep this game tied, Trenton second baseman Hoy Jun Park broke for home and scored for the 2-1 lead.
Pitching from the stretch, the lefty Wells had his back to third and didn’t see the runner and/or hear anyone on the field yelling to make a play until it was too late.
The game’s first run came via a longball. Trenton first baseman Chris Gittens, the Eastern League MVP, connected off Wells to right-center. His homer leading off the second inning gave Trenton the 1-0 lead. Gittens was just 2-for-17 in the postseason until that homer, after hitting 23 in the regular season.
Bowie was struggling early in the game against Trenton right-hander Clarke Schmidt, the Yankees’ No. 5 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com. He gave up a leadoff single in the first to Cedric Mullins, who stole second with two outs, but was stranded.
Schmidt began the game with a 21-inning streak of not allowing an earned run. And his 92-95 mph fastballs and solid breaking pitches kept Bowie’s bats pretty silent through the fourth, when he had fanned eight.
But the Baysox produced a 1-1 tie in the fifth. Batting eighth, right fielder T.J. Nichting walked with one out and moved up on a groundout. With two outs, Mullins singled to right to tie the game 1-1. That made Mullins 11-for-29 (.379) in the postseason to that point.
Wells went seven innings, allowing six hits and two runs with no walks and eight strikeouts. He threw 90 pitches, 69 for strikes. Wells was at 30 pitches through three and at 58 pitches with 46 strikes through the sixth.
Now the Baysox will need to win the next two nights to win the Eastern League title. In 2015, when Bowie won its only league championship, the Baysox did just that. They lost Game 3 to Reading, but won games four and five.
In 2019, a repeat will be necessary for Bowie.
Bowie manager Buck Britton on the loss: “That’s kind of a tough one to swallow right there. Offensively, struck out 15 times tonight. Anytime you strike out 15 times, it’s going to be tough to win. And credit to their guy. We weren’t making any adjustments. He kept throwing that breaking ball in the dirt and we kept swinging at it. They did a nice job and Wells, man, he deserved a better fate than that. We lost focus there with the bases loaded, allowing that guy to get three-quarters of the way down the line and steal home on us. Tough one.”
Britton on Wells’ strong night: “That’s the guy we’ve seen all year. What a competitor. That’s who he is. That guy competes. It doesn’t matter - back up against the wall, he goes out there and competes. That is what he does. The guys just pumps strikes and is fearless and goes right after hitters.”
Wells on the steal of home: “From what the guys have told me, he was jumping around over at third base. I didn’t really see much over there and the crowd got really into the game when I got two strikes on him. He picked the right time to go. I couldn’t hear anything. By the time I heard, ‘Step off!’ it was too late and he had it stolen.”