Aberdeen had any momentum it had gathered from its five-game win-streak and walk-off win Tuesday night snapped in a lethargic 6-2 loss to the Tri-City ValleyCats Wednesday night at Ripken Stadium.
Aberdeen starter Tyler Sexton struggled early, allowing runs in the first two innings to spot Tri-City a 2-0 lead. Tri-City leftfielder Wilton Infante lined Sexton’s first pitch of the game into left field for a double. Sexton then hit third baseman Ben Orloff to put runners on first and second with no outs. Second baseman Kike Hernandez struck out and Infante was called out at third on an attempted double steal during catcher Ben Heath’s at bat. But Heath was able to deliver Orloff from second with a single to center.
Tri-City manufactured its second run in the top of the second. Centerfielder Daniel Adamson led off the inning with a ground rule double to centerfield and then advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by shortstop Jacke Healey. Then designated hitter Buck Afenir drove in Adamson on a groundout to third base giving Tri-City a 2-0 lead.
Aberdeen had a chance to get into the game in the bottom of the second, putting runners on first and second with two outs, but Tri-City starter Jake Buchanan struck out rightfielder Blair Dunlap to end the threat.
Tri-City pushed the lead to 3-0 in the top of the fourth when rightfielder Michael Kvasnicka led off with a double down the left field line. After Sexton struck out back-to-back batters, Afenir recorded his second RBI of the game with a double of his own to left.
Sexton (1-3, 8.78) surrendered two more runs in the top of the fifth behind a walk to Orloff, a double by Hernandez to score Orloff, and a triple by Kvasnicka to score Hernandez to put Tri-City up 5-0 through five.
“Pitching is always adjusting,” pitching coach Scott McGregor said. “Last year his fastball-changeup combination was real good and this year he’s just been missing. Today he threw the ball pretty good, but he just would miss with key pitches, and they’re not missing them right now.”
Sexton saw his night end after the fifth. His final line contained five innings of work, five runs on seven hits and one walk, and five strikeouts. His ERA is now 8.78.
Aberdeen finally got on the board off Buchanan (2-2, 5.56) in the bottom of the sixth. Centerfielder Trent Mummey led off the inning with a double to right field, then advanced to third on a groundout by second baseman Austin Knight, and then scored on a groundout by designated hitter Brandon Snyder. Buchanan was chased after leftfielder Kipp Schutz’s single to center, but reliever Andrew Robinson got third baseman Adam Gaylord to ground out to end the threat with Tri-City still leading 5-1.
Buchanan’s line for the night was 5.2 innings, five hits, one run, and two strikeouts. His ERA fell to 5.56 from 6.88. Tri-City used three relievers to pitch 3.1 innings of one-run ball to close the game, the bullpen’s performance punctuated with IronBirds first baseman being thrown at home plate to end the game.
The most exciting portion of the game for IronBirds fans came with one out in the top of the seventh with Orloff on first and Hernandez at the bat for Tri-City. Hernandez grounded to Gaylord who started turning a 5-4-3 double play, but Knight’s throw sailed wide at first. First baseman David Anderson made an athletic play and appeared to place a tag on Hernandez running up the line, but umpire Dustin Klinghagen called Hernandez safe. Anderson was incredulous at the call and acting manager Leo Gomez, taking over while manager Gary Kendall is away for personal reasons, came out to argue the call.
Klinghagen conferred with home plate umpire Ivan Mercado, but the call was not changed. At this point, Gomez started a conversation with Klinghagen. After a few moments of arguing, Gomez made comments directed at and gestured at Mercado, who immediately ejected him. Gomez had to be restrained by batting coach Cesar Devarez before leaving to the clubhouse.
“It’s minor league baseball all around,” McGregor said. “We’re all learning our trades and we’re all trying. With a two-man crew it’s very difficult to see those kind of tag plays from behind.”
This appeared to ignite the IronBirds, at least momentarily, as Anderson led off the bottom of the inning with a triple to right field and then scored on catcher Austin Rauch’s sacrifice fly to center. But Dunlap struck out and shortstop Michael Rooney grounded out to end the inning with Tri-City still leading 5-2.
Anderson himself was ejected in the top of the eighth ater appearing to continue jawing with Klinghagen.
Lefthander Blake Mechaw came on in relief for Sexton, pitching the final four innings of the game. Mechaw surrendered only one run in the top of the ninth, and allowed three hits and two walks while striking out two ValleyCats.
Snyder was 0-for-4 with an RBI and a strikeout in his second rehab appearance. It was the first time he had played back-to-back games in a month.
“I feel pretty good,” Snyder said. “Tonight it was more or less trying to get into the rhythm of things. Last night felt better than tonight which is as expected. I was a little bit more tired today.”
McGregor believes that Kendall will be back later in the homestand.
Aberdeen closes off the three-game series with Tri-City on Thursday night, as Tim Adleman (0-1, 3.20) takes the mound for the IronBirds against the ValleyCats’ Alex Sorgard (1-0, 1.69). In Adleman’s last start on July 17, he pitched five innings against the Lowell Spinners, allowing two runs on five hits and striking out four batters, but ultimately received a no-decision. Sorgard will be making his first start of the year for Tri-City. For the year, he has made 10 appearances out of the bullpen, giving up only three runs over 15 innings of work. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at Ripken Stadium.