Salem Red Sox complete sweep at Myrtle Beach
For the first time in 55 years, a carolina league team has won 15 games in a row. And on Tuesday night in their 2014 home opener, the Salem Red Sox will try to match the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals, who won 16 straight to establish a record that has stood for 64 years.
It is all possible because of a magical finish to 2013 that culminated with a Mills Cup Championship and a scintillating start to the new season, with four consecutive road wins over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. On Sunday afternoon, the Sox pitchers shut down the Pelicans again to earn their second shutout in last three games, blanking the Birds 3-0 to complete the sweep.
Corey Littrell, Simon Mercedes, and Madison Younginer all delivered the goods for Salem on the mound, holding the Pelicans to six hits, all of them singles. Together, the trio combined for 14 strikeouts and stranded 11 Myrtle Beach baserunners.
Pelicans righthander Sam Wolff was perhaps even more dominant at the outset, retiring the first 12 batters of the game with a mid-90s fastball that helped produce six strikeouts. But the perfection was interrupted in the top of the fifth when Matt Gedman launched a leadoff double to the center-field fence. He moved to third on Mario Martinez’ fly ball to right and raced home on a wild pitch, marking the second time in the series that a game’s first run was scored on a wild pitch.
With a 1-0 lead, Littrell encountered turbulence in the fifth despite striking out the first two hitters in the frame. The trouble began when David Lyon, Myrtle Beach’s #9 hitter, reached first on a third strike wild pitch. A single and a walk loaded the bases with one away, but Littrell responded by striking out Nick Williams. Unfortunately, with his pitch count at 79, he departed with the bags still packed and two men gone. Entering in a high-leverage spot, Simon Mercedes flexed his mid-90s fastball to induce an inning-ending ground out to keep the Pelicans scoreless.
The Sox tacked on a pair of runs in the seventh, with Reed Gragnani driving in Mario Martinez with a single to left-center and Jonathan Roof drawing a bases loaded walk from Sam Stafford, forcing Gragnani across the plate to make it 3-0. Salem’s offense mustered six hits and six walks on Sunday afternoon, all that it would need with the continued brilliance on the hill.
In the four-game series, the Red Sox starters allowed just one earned run in 20.2 innings pitched, a 0.44 ERA. Overall, Salem never trailed and outscored Myrtle Beach 22-5 in the four games, with a team ERA of 1.00. Whereas Red Sox pitchers walked five Pelicans in the four games, Myrtle Beach hurlers handed 26 free passes to Salem’s sticks.
Myrtle Beach did put two runs on base and bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning on Sunday, but Younginer struck out Williams to finish the deal and earn the save. The win belonged to Mercedes, who struck out four over three and a third innings in his carolina league debut. Although Littrell did not factor in the decision, his eight strikeouts represented a new season-best for any Sox pitcher.
After a day off on Monday, Salem will return to LewisGale Field for the first time since winning the carolina league championship on September 10, 2013. A week-long homestand begins with Winston-Salem visiting, as the Sox look to match Winston’s 64-year-old record in the opener. Brian Johnson is expected to be on the mound for Salem, while Mike Recchia will start for Winston. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
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