Amid the decorative bunting, a ring ceremony and celebratory first pitches that included Indians perfect game pitcher Len Barker, the Aeros kicked off defense of their Eastern League Championship on Thursday night with a 2-1 loss to the Binghamton Mets at a revamped Canal Park.
After 16 Aeros received their championship rings in a pregame ceremony broadcast on a new state-of-the art scoreboard and each of the team’s starters were driven around the warning track in shiny Corvettes before being dropped off at home plate as their names were announced, a pitchers’ duel ensued.
Aeros starter Danny Salazar, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in August of 2010 that limited him to 47 innings over the next two seasons, matched Mets starter Rafael Montero for the first four innings.
Salazar sat the Mets down in order in the first inning. After walking leadoff man Rhyne Hughes in the second, he rebounded with a strikeout and an inning-ending double play.
Salazar, signed in 2006 as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic, also overcame an error that allowed leadoff man Cesar Puello to reach safely in the third inning. He retired the next three batters, two by strikeout.
The Mets broke through against Salazar in the fifth inning.
Salazar loaded the bases with one out and then got what appeared to be a double-play grounder.
But second baseman Jose Ramirez misplayed the ball and was only able to get Wilfred Tovar at first and a run scored.
Salazar limited the Mets to one run on two hits, walked two and struck out five.
In all, it was a good first career Opening Day start for a player not used to pitching in cool weather and still limited to five innings or 80 pitches.
“It [affected] me a little bit,” Salazar said of the weather, “coming off Tommy John surgery and getting out in the cold. It was tough between innings and it would take me a little while to warm up.
“I’d been having problems with my slider. But tonight, it was great. All my pitchers were.”
The Mets added to their lead against reliever Cole Cook in the sixth. Former Aeros shortstop Josh Rodriguez, playing third for the Mets, smashed a Cook fastball 400 feet to dead center to make it 2-0.
Mets starter Rafael Montero cruised for much of his outing. The right-hander retired 14 consecutive Aeros after allowing a two-out single to Carlos Moncrief in the first inning.
Aeros center fielder Tyler Holt stopped the streak by lining a single into center field to lead off the sixth.
Montero held the Aeros to one run on two hits in 5⅔ innings, did not walk a batter and struck out eight.
“Not only was Montero commanding his fastball, but his secondary pitches were very good,” Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He was throwing that breaking ball, I think it was a slider, on 3-2 counts for strikes. It doesn’t matter where you are pitching, if you can throw that for a strike, chances are you’re going to be successful — and he was doing that.”
But just like the Mets did in the previous inning, the Aeros went right after reliever Adam Kolarek, who took over for Montero.
Ramirez, the first batter Kolarek faced, lined a single up the middle for his second hit of the night, this one scoring Holt to cut the Mets’ lead to 2-1.
The Aeros threatened in the bottom of the ninth, but after leading off with a single, Ramirez was stranded at second base when designated hitter Chun Chen struck out to end the game.
“Salazar and the rest of the pitchers did a good job,” Edwin Rodriguez said. “The pitching was good, the tempo was good and the first-pitch for strike was good, so they were attacking the hitters. It was a lack of offense that [did us in].”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.