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Matt Gage guides Squirrels in series opener

richmond flying squirrelsFlying Squirrels lefty Matt Gage baffled Harrisburg over eight innings, and six-time MLB All-Star Joe Nathan pitched the ninth, saving a 3-2 win for Richmond (53-71) on Friday night at The Diamond.

Gage allowed just two runs on eight hits and Nathan worked around a pair of runners in his Squirrels debut to earn the save. Richmond’s Hunter Cole snapped a 2-2 tie in the eighth, lining the game-winning single into center field against Senators starter Phillips Valdez.

Matt Gage was in control yet again for the Squirrels on Friday night. Gage, coming off an eight-inning performance a week ago, needed just seven pitches to retire the side in the first. The Squirrels backed the lefty with a run in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 lead. Steven Duggar opened the bottom half of the first with a single, extending his hitting streak to ten consecutive games. Duggar advanced to second and third on a pair of groundouts and was brought home via an opposite field single from Chris Shaw. The single produced Shaw’s 23 RBI with Richmond.

Kevin Keyes quickly tied the contest, 1-1, on the first pitch to start the second inning. Keyes drilled his 12th home run of the season over the left field wall to tie the game. Gage then struck out the next batter Drew Ward and escaped the inning with the lone run allowed. Gage continued on and retired the side in order in the third inning.

The teams traded runs in the bottom of the third into the top of the fourth. Richmond took advantage of an error on a double play ball, placing runners at first and third. Ryder Jones then pulled the Squirrels ahead briefly with a base hit, giving Richmond a 2-1 lead. Harrisburg countered with a run in the top of the fourth. Gage walked Issac Ballou to open the inning. Ballou then grabbed second base on a fly out and came around to score on a soft infield grounder up the first base line. Gage came off the mound to cover the bag and dropped the feed from the first baseman Chris Shaw, allowing Ballou to come home from second base on the play.

The game remained gridlocked through the middle innings and into the later part of the night Gage retired the side in the fifth and used just six pitches to pick up all three outs in the sixth. Harrisburg placed a pair of runners on in the seventh, but could not convert, keeping the score tied, 2-2.

Valdez also regained control and retired 13 consecutive batters into the eighth inning. Valdez returned to start the eighth despite 98 pitches thrown on the night. Steven Duggar worked a walk and was bunted into scoring position. Hunter Cole then delivered an RBI single for a 3-2 Richmond lead. Valdez (4-4) finished the eighth inning but suffered the loss. The righty allowed just three runs on five hits in the outing.

Cole’s single allowed Richmond to turn to the six-time MLB All-Star Joe Nathan to close out the game. Nathan, making his Flying Squirrels debut, worked around a base hit and walk to finish the game and secure the win for Gage. Gage (8-7) lasted eight innings for the third time this season to pick up the win. The lefty allowed just two runs on eight hits on the night.