The Aeros may have been trailing by two runs entering the ninth inning Sunday, but to this season’s squad, a game is never over the final out is in the books.
Such a relaxed and confident approach has helped the Aeros stage their share of rallies and come-from-behind wins en route to becoming the Eastern League’s top team with a 65-43 record.
Trailing visiting Bowie 5-3 by the time the ninth inning rolled around Sunday afternoon at a sun-splashed Canal Park, the rally began promptly. However, this time a victory did not follow, as the Baysox held on for a 5-4 victory that gave them a four-game series split.
“It says a lot about the team and the way its been this year that you go into the ninth with two runs down and here we are a couple hitters later with runners at second and third, one out and a chance to win it,” Aeros manager Chris Tremie said.
Aeros shortstop Juan Diaz sparked the rally when he led off the ninth inning with a double down the right field line and into the corner that marked the end of left-handed reliever Chris Petrini’s outing. Petrini, who earned a hold, was trying to finish the game for starter and winning picther Rick Zagone, whom he’d relieved in the sixth inning.
But a new pitcher in Baysox reliever Kyler Newby didn’t seem to make much of a difference, as Aeros first baseman Adam Abraham came through with a clutch single that scored Diaz to pull the host to within a run, his third hit of the game.
“We don’t ever panic when we’re down,” said Abraham, playing in just his second game since returning to the lineup after missing five games with a back strain and sore ankle. “No one puts more pressure on themselves to have to get it done. We all just do our jobs individually and make it work as a collective group.”
It appeared the Aeros might do just that once again in the ninth, aided even, by a suddenly jittery Bowie defense that advanced two Aeros runners on base with just one out via a wild pitch and when a potential double-play ball was botched by third baseman Ty Kelly.
But with catcher Michel Hernandez on third base and second baseman Davis Stoneburner on first after a fielder’s choice, center fielder Tyler Holt hit into a game-ending force out at short to halt the rally.
“That’s pretty much what we’ve done all year,” Tremie said. “And more often than not, we’ve come out on top. Today, unfortunately, we just couldn’t get the fly ball or the base hit to put the game away. But we sure battled to make it a game late.”
Like they had throughout the four-game series, the Aeros took an early lead with a first-inning run on designated hitter Nick Weglarz's RBI-single that scored Holt, who walked to lead off the frame.
But the Baltimore Orioles No. 2 prospect, Bowie shortstop Manny Machado, tied the game in the fourth inning with a solo blast over the left field fence off Aeros starter Matt Packer, who took the loss.
“He’s a very talented player with a lot of tools,” Tremie said of Machado, who went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored while also making a pair of nice defensive plays. “He’s got a lot of potential with a very high ceiling. He had a really good day today for them, both with his bat and his glove.
In the fifth inning Zagone began to struggle with his command, dishing up a leadoff double to Abraham, who was playing in just his second game since injuring himself against visiting Erie July 23.
Zagone regrouped briefly to get the next two outs only to fall behind and walk the next two Aeros batters to load the bases. Right fielder Jordan Henry quickly made him pay, lining a single up the middle just past the outstretched glove of the Baysox second baseman and into center field. Scoring on the play was Abraham and Stoneburner to break the tie and hand the Aeros a 3-1 lead.
But Machado struck again for Bowie in the sixth inning, doubling down the left field line against Packer to score Kelly, who led off the inning with an infield hit.
The run trimmed the Akron lead to a 3-2 and marked the end of Packer’s outing after 5 1/3 innings. Leaving the action with a one-run lead and two men on, Packer gave way to right-hander Shawn Armstrong. But Armstrong walked the first batter he faced and Baysox designated hitter Robbie Widlansky scored on a passed ball to tie the game once again.
But the score wasn’t knotted long, as Bowie continued the rally against Armstrong with left fielder Buck Britton blooping a run-scoring single into shallow center field for a 4-3 advantage.
The game might have ended differently if the Aeros bullpen could have held the Baysox pat from there. Instead, Bowie added what became a key insurance run in seventh on Widlansky's two-out, solo homer off Aeros 7-foot reliever Loek Van Mil.