Rocks sneak past Sox, 4-3

Jake Kuebler came through with two outs and two strikes, smacking a soft line-drive single to center in the ninth inning to score Brett Eibner from third and give Wilmington a 4-3 lead.

Although Salem placed the tying run just 90 feet away from home in the last of the ninth, Xander Bogaerts’ bid for a three-hit night landed in Eibner’s glove in deep right-center field, sending the Sox to their first one-run loss of the season on Tuesday evening at LewisGale Field.

The contest feature varying momentum with the Blue Rocks coming out of the gates quickly before the Red Sox grasped the good vibes with three straight runs to tie it up. Wilmington starter Yordano Ventura was dominant over the first four innings as the Rocks built their 3-0 lead, striking out ten Red Sox over the first four frames. But Ventura departed with a man aboard and two outs in the fifth, prompting a change of the tides. Salem rallied for a pair of two-out scores in the fifth and delivered another clutch two-out knock in the sixth to even things at three, but the Red Sox stranded the potential go-ahead runs in scoring position in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth innings! Salem left 11 men aboard for the night, the fourth time in five nights that the Sox have stranded 11 or more.

The Blue Rocks surged in front in the top of the first against Salem starter Keith Couch, utilizing three consecutive one out singles from Angel Franco, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Brian Fletcher, with the latter driving in the former to make it 1-0. One frame later, Luis Piterson and Whit Merrifield delivered back-to-back two-out doubles, stretching the Blue Rocks edge to two. And in the top of the fourth, Kevin David made it 3-0 with a leadoff homer over the fence in left, the fourth homer of the series for Wilmington.

Down a trio, the Sox took advantage of Ventura’s early departure with three straight two-out hits off reliever Ryan Dennick. With Jackie Bradley, Jr. at second base, Brandon Jacobs singled Bradley home to get the Sox on the board. After a Travis Shaw single, Bogaerts blasted a double off the fence in right, sending Jacobs across and moving Shaw to third, bringing Salem within one at 3-2. Although Christian Vazquez grounded out to end the threat, an inning later the Sox used doubles from Michael Almanzar and Bradley to even the score at three.

Vazquez led off the last of the eighth with a towering fly to straight away center, pelting the top of the 20-foot wall right next to the 401-foot marker. Missing a mammoth homer by just a foot or two, Vazquez settled for a double. But unfortunately for Salem, following a Drew Hedman pop-up and an Almanzar intentional walk, Shannon Wilkerson bounced into a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.

In the ninth, the Blue Rocks snapped a stretch of 15 straight men set down by Red Sox pitchers when Brett Eibner doubled to begin the frame. Pete Ruiz, who had retired the first nine he faced over three flawless innings, induced a grounder from Geulin Beltre and struck out David, but Kuebler delivered the game-changing RBI single on a 1-2 pitch to plate Eibner.

In the bottom of the last, Nick Rogers retired the first two he faced before Jacobs worked a walk. Shaw singled to move Jacobs to third, but the late-game drama ended in Wilmington’s favor when Bogaerts skied to the edge of the warning track in right-center field.

Despite pitching masterfully and striking out six Rocks in four innings, Ruiz was saddled with his first loss, dropping his record to 2-1. Meanwhile, Dennick allowed two runs on six hits over three and a third but picked up the win, improving to 2-1, while Rogers earned his second save.

Salem and Wilmington continue their four game series on Wednesday at LewisGale Field, with Drake Britton schedule to face off against Greg Billo. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.


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