The huge, navy blue structure that lurks 400 feet to dead center at Canal Park is 60 feet high with a 12-foot wall topped by the 48-foot tall batter’s eye.
To say its quite a poke to get any ball to clear it – even in batting practice - is no understatement. Ocasionally the batter’s eye will get hit by a blast off a player’s bat, as the handful of home run balls stuck in the groves of the coregated metal can attest.
But clear it the blue beast? Why, that hasn’t happened in at least the last decade.
That’s why it was rare to see Carlos Moncrief’s towering solo homer that lead off the bottom of the seventh inning headed straight for the wall, quickly carry high enough and then sail right over it prove the eventual game-winning hit in the Aeros 2-1 victory over Bowie Sunday.
The pitch didn’t come from no Double-A scrub, either. The fastball that Moncrief drilled was an offering by right-hander Kevin Gausman, the No. 2 propsect overall in Baltimore’s farm system and the Orioles top pitching prospect heading into the season according to Baseball America.
“That home run felt good, especially coming off that pitcher,” Moncrief said. “With as good as he was, I didn’t want him to get me three times (he struck out and flew out in his first two at bats on the afternoon). I really wanted him bad, so to get him like that felt real good.”
Moncrief’s run was just one of two that Gausman allowed on the baseball-perfect afternoon at Canal Park and the first since left fielder Bo Greenwell drove in center fielder Tyler Holt with a bunt single in the first inning.
“(Guasman’s) a really good pitcher, but the guys like that challenge of facing of pitchers like that,” Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez said of Gausman, who was once again the Baysox tough-luck starter at 0-3 with a 1.37 ERA over his last three starts – a stretch that includes just one walk to 14 strikeouts. “It’s good competition and it gets them to really get up for the challenege.”
Despite Gausman’s impressve credentials and solid statistics, he was overshadowed by Moncrief - who, ironically, is a former pitcher. Still riding the high of producing Saturday’s night’s ninth-inning walk-off single to center field, Moncrief began his stellar effort Sunday by gunning down a Bowie runner trying to tag up from second base on a fly out to right field.
We’re not just talking about any runner either, but speedy Baysox leadoff man Xavier Avery, who had to be stunned to see Moncrief’s bullet of a throw beat him by at least a foot as he slid into the bag with third baseman Kyle Bellows waiting for him with the ball already in his glove.
In the bottom of the first inning, Baysox center fielder Kyle Hudson also drew oh’s and ah’s from the 3,896 in attendance when he made a highlight-reel leaping catch at the wall on a ball crushed by Aeros designated hitter Chun Chen.
Hudson slammed into the wall hard a second after coming down witht the ball, threw it into the infield and then crumpled to the ground in pain. After being attended to by the Bowie trainer, Hudson got up, dusted himself off and stayed in game. The Baysox then went on to tie the score 1-1 in the top of the next inning when a Zelous Wheeler groundout scored Caleb Joseph, who walked to lead off.
Also overshadowed by Moncrief’s all-around play was Aeros startring pitcher Jordan Cooper, who made the spot start on three days rest. In five innings, the right-hander held Bowie’s explosive offense to just one run while scattering five hits over five innings.
Jose Flores followed with two innings of hitless relief, Bryan Price gave up a mere meaningless hit in an inning of work and Austin Adams slammed the door shut with a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season.
With the victory, the Aeros (15-15) improved to .500, won the series two-games-to-one against the pesky Baysox and are now 9-3 since April 22 when they were a season-low six games under .500.
* The Aeros were forced to go with their “emergency infield” during Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Bowie with second baseman Jose Ramirez out with a hip flexor suffered late in Saturday’s win.
“He told me there was a high bounce to him at second in the seventh inning,” Aeros skipper Edwin Rodriguez said. “When he came up and made that change of direction, he that’s when he pulled it.”
With Ramirez deemed “day-to-day” for now by Rodriguez, usual third baseman Giovanni Urshela filled in at shortstop, Kyle Bellows took over for Urshela at third and usual shortstop Ronny Rodriguez played in place of Ramirez at second base.
“Urshela did a good job, but obviously he’s not a shortstop,” the Aeros skipper said. “But it was an emergency move…Any of those players who show they can play another position, it helps increase their value.”
* Right-handed pitcher Brett Brach was originally scheduled to start Sunday’s game for the Aeros but was scratched when he learned he was being called up to Triple-A Columbus to start Monday’s game for the Clippers.
“That’s why it was a very impressive outing by Cooper to make the spot start (on three days rest) and keep us in the game,” Rodriguez said.