With the host Aeros and visiting Richmond battling each other in an attempt to climb back into the Eastern League playoff picture, there was an added importance put on the outcome of Sunday’s contest at Canal Park.
But even with their 5-2 victory, the Aeros postseason hopes are fading.
They entered the afternoon four and a half games behind second-place Bowie for the Western Division wildcard with nine games remaining in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Flying Squirrels began the game trailing the Baysox by a mere half game.
So it didn’t help the visitors’ cause to enter the contest at a disadvantage with scheduled starter, left-handed Clayton Tanner, designated for assignment due to moves at the major league level. In Tanner’s place, the Squirrels reached into their bullpen and tapped another lefty - Wilmin Rodriguez - to make his third spot start in 30 appearances this season.
Despite being staked to a two-run cushion in the top of the first inning thanks to RBI hits from Francisco Peguera and Chris Domingez, Rodriguez could only hold the Aeros in check through two innings before the host chased him from the game with a four-run third inning.
Karexon Sanchez opened the frame with a double and Jordan Henry followed with a single. Two batters later, John Drennen brought them both home with a two-run single that tied the game.
But a walk, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk to load the bases and sacrifice fly pushed home two more runs to give the Aeros a 4-2 lead. Akron later added a seventh-inning insurance run when Henry walked to open the inning and later scored on an error.
Meanwhile, Aeros starter Austin Adams recovered from a rocky first inning in which he allowed four consecutive two-out singles - including RBI hits to former Akron third baseman Wes Hodges and Juan Perez - as the Squirrels took an early lead.
“Austin left a couple balls up early and they turned those mistakes into runs,” Aeros manager Chris Tremie said. “But he finished that inning and came back with another four strong innings to keep us in the game. He does a good job of damage control.”
In limiting Richmond to the two runs on seven hits while striking out six, the right-handed Adams improved to 11-10 with a 3.77 ERA on the season.
“In the first inning everything was middle, middle up,” Adams said. “I was trying to get the feel for locating my pitches better and was able to do that the last four innings.”
Adams admitted that even the small window of hope the Aeros have to make the post season pushed him a little more Sunday.
“Everybody’s looking at it like we’ve got a week left,” he said. “If we keep winning and get on a roll, we might make the playoffs. If we don’t, we go home.”
After Adams, the Aeros bullpen was solid. Right-hander Bryce Stowell set the tone with three scoreless frames. He was followed by former starter Kelvin De La Cruz, who in his third relief appearance, picked up his second career save (albeit his first in six seasons) with a perfect ninth inning.
“He’ll be out of the ’pen as of right now,” Tremie said of De La Cruz’s new role. “Until I get further notice from Cleveland, that’s his role for now…He was on the disabled list (left shoulder inflammation) for a little while and it gives him the opportunity to build his arm back up this late in the year.”
Despite Richmond’s loss coupled with Bowie’s 4-1 win over Erie, the visitor’s players and coaching staff probably had more on their minds than the possibility of a post-season berth slipping away.
While Akron’s cloudy skies gave way to intermittent sun late in the game, it proved a stark contrast to what awaits the Squirrels at home as remnants of Hurricane Irene have left about half the Richmond area without power.