It takes 11, but P-Nats end slide with 5-4 win
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It takes 11, but P-Nats end slide with 5-4 win

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p-natsThough it took more than the required nine innings, the Potomac Nationals (67-58, 33-24) finally got back in the win column, as DH Bryan Mejia plated SS Osvaldo Abreu with a one-out infield walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning Sunday night. The victory salvaged the series finale in an overall series loss to the Frederick Keys (63-63, 27-29) and dropped Potomac’s magic number for a playoff spot to nine games. The P-Nats are 5.5 games ahead of the Keys with 13 games remaining in the second half.

For the third straight night, the two teams played a close affair that could have gone either way on numerous occasions. Potomac took advantage of the long ball early on, as RHP Lucas Long (ND) entered the game with the second most home runs allowed in the Carolina League, and two Potomac home runs in the first three innings vaulted him to the top of that list. C Raudy Read got the P-Nats on the board with a two-run home run in the first inning, and 3B Austin Davidson hit his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot, in the bottom of the third.

In between Potomac’s two home runs, LHP Hector Silvestre (ND) had trouble finding the strike zone in his first appearance for the P-Nats since 2014. Silvestre walked five and struck out only one, though the Keys rarely capitalized on their 10 base runners over the first four innings. LF D.J. Stewart plated CF Josh Hart with an RBI groundout in the third inning, but after Silvestre issued consecutive one-out walks, which loaded the bases, 1B Cam Kneeland and DH Yermin Mercedes failed to drive in any runs. Down 3-1 after three innings, the Keys loaded the bases with one out and made it a one-run game on an RBI single by Stewart, but C Wynston Sawyer followed with an inning-ending double play. The Keys went 4-13 with RISP in the loss and left 11 runners on base.

After an erratic start from Silvestre, Potomac turned to RHP Jorge Pantoja to start the fifth frame. Pantoja opened his outing by hitting RF Conor Bierfeldt in the hands, but quickly erased the base runner with a double play. With two outs, Mercedes singled, 3B Jomar Reyes was hit by a pitch, 2B Steve Wilkerson tied the game at three with an RBI single, and Hart gave Frederick its only lead with an RBI double. Though once again, the Keys left two men in scoring position and failed to build on a 4-3 lead. Pantoja settled in and worked 2.2 innings before he turned the ball over to RHP Gilberto Mendez.

Long finished off a quality outing, as the righty faced the minimum over his final 3.2 innings. LHP Garrett Cleavinger, who struggled to throw strikes in game one of the series, gave up the game tying run in the seventh. After a leadoff strikeout by RF Drew Vettleson, Mejia tripled into the right field corner. 1B Matt Pagefollowed with a fly ball to right field, and Bierfeldt’s throw to the plate was up the third base line, just enough so that Sawyer missed his attempted tag of Mejia. Page’s sacrifice fly tied the game at four, where the score stood until the 11th inning.

Mendez got the final out of the seventh inning for Potomac and then worked three straight perfect frames. The righty retired all 10 men that he faced. In the 11th, RHP Ryan Brinley (W, 4-0) got three straight groundouts from the top third of the Frederick order, which set Potomac up for a third walk-off chance of the night.

After three innings of one-hit baseball from RHP Ivan Hernandez, Frederick went to RHP Genison Reyes (L, 2-2) for the 11th inning. Reyes walked Abreu on four pitches to open the inning and gave up a single to Read. A successful sacrifice bunt by Vettleson put men at second and third base with one out. Instead of walking Mejia to set up a potential double play opportunity, the Keys pitched to the Potomac designated hitter with the infield drawn in. Mejia weakly bounced a ball over the head of Reyes on the mound, and Wilkerson was never able to make a throw home from second base. Abreu scored the winning run, as Potomac snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory.

Back in a first place tie with the Lynchburg Hillcats after Sunday night, the P-Nats, and the rest of the league, will be off on Monday. Potomac returns to action Tuesday night, as LHP Matthew Crownover (3-4, 4.73) will get the start for the P-Nats. Crownover was brilliant last time out, as the lefty did not allow a run over six innings in a no-decision vs. the Wilmington Blue Rocks. In their final trip to Pfitzner Stadium in 2016, the Salem Red Sox are slated to start LHP Daniel McGrath (7-5, 3.96) in the series opener. McGrath has allowed just one total earned run over his last two starts. First pitch Tuesday night is scheduled for 7:05pm.

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