Able to play for the first time in six days, the Salem Red Sox showed few signs of rust in sweeping a twin-bill from Potomac, garnering a 6-3 victory in the opener before rallying to prevail 9-6 in the nightcap. The two wins catapulted the Red Sox right in the mix of the playoff chase, as Salem remained one game behind Carolina and moved a half-game ahead of Winston in pursuit of a postseason berth. It was Salem’s first action since last Thursday, a result of four consecutive rain-outs and an off-day.
Carlos Asuaje led the Red Sox with a dynamic offensive performance, collecting five hits, including two homers, in the two games. Reed Gragnani also reached base five times in the twin-bill, while Mario Martinez registered four hits and Jake Romanski launched his first Carolina League homer in the opener.
The Sox struck quickly in both games, bolting to a 4-0 lead in the opener. Romaski’s RBI single scored Gragnani in the second, while Asauje launched a solo homer in the third and Romanski crushed a two-run blast in the fourth, all off Nationals starter Hector Silvestre. Potomac scrapped single tallies in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, but Joe Gunkel and Kyle Martin maintained the lead, with Salem adding two more runs of insurance in the fifth and seventh frames, respectively. Matty Johnson tripled to lead off the fifth, sprinting home on a wild pitch to make it 5-1. Later, Asauje’s second homer of the game created a 6-2 score.
Gunkel picked up the victory, striking out a career-best eight Nationals over five and two-thirds innings, allowing two runs on six hits. Martin earned the save, dealing the final inning and a third and surrendering only on unearned run.
In the nightcap, the Sox plated a pair in the top of the first against Dakota Bacus, who paid the price for walking two of the first three men he faced. RBI singles from Martinez and Matt Gedman surged Salem to a 2-0 edge. One frame later, Dreily Guerrero tripled and Johnson singled him home to make it 3-0.
Salem connected for two more triples in the top of the first, with Asuaje and Gragnani collecting consecutive three-baggers with two outs to produce another run, lifting the Red Sox into a 4-1 lead with Pat Light on the hill. But the Sox righthander stumbled after a strong start. The Nationals clawed their way back with a run in the fourth, another in the fifth, and two more in the sixth to take their first lead at 5-4 when Khayyan Norfork drove in Pedro Severino.
Down by one after six innings, the Sox were down to their final out before Aneury Tavarez delivered a clutch RBI single to tie it up. Potomac’s Gilberto Mendez had blown the save, and after the score became tied, the floodgates opened, with Salem rallying for five runs all with two outs in the top of the seventh. Guerrero chipped in with an RBI single, while Asauje drove in two more runs with a bases loaded single, and the Sox led 9-5 after six and a half.
Although Jonathan Aro served up a solo homer to Stephen Perez in the final frame, the Salem Sox still held on for the 9-6 victory, with Aro earning the win. Mendez, who allowed five runs in just one inning, saw his ERA skyrocket from 2.23 to 3.30 and suffered the setback.
Salem and Potomac will reunite for another doubleheader on Thursday, with the first pitch slated for 5 PM. Simon Mercedes and Heri Quevedo are expected to make the starts for the Sox, with Quevedo making his first Carolina League appearance since dealing seven scoreless innings against the Nationals in the Mills Cup Championship Series last September.