The Aberdeen IronBirds squandered a near-perfect pitching performance from starter Scott Copeland on one swing of the bat Thursday night, but managed to produce the late-game heroics this season has become known for, tying the game in the bottom of the ninth before catcher Austin Rauch delivered the IronBirds to a 3-2 walk-off victory with a home run at Ripken Stadium. The home run came as Rauch led off the bottom of the tenth and completed the seventh walk-off win this season for Aberdeen.
“We got the position I wanted to be in, I got a good pitch to hit, and put the game away,” Rauch said.
“They don’t quit,” manager Gary Kendall said. “It’s a nice one.”
Aberdeen tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth after a one-out triple off Robert Dickmann by leftfielder Kipp Schutz scored second baseman Sammie Starr to tie the game. After intentional walks to third baseman and Wednesday night hero Adam Gaylord and first baseman Tyler Stampone, the bases were loaded for rightfielder Blair Dunlap against reliever Austin Hubbard. But Dunlap failed to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt and Schutz was caught too far off third base and tagged out. Hubbard struck out Dunlap to escape the jam.
Ashur Tolliver, pitching with a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning, gave up a two-out, two-run home run to catcher Mayo Acosta to put the IronBirds in position for the comeback.
Before the eighth inning, Copeland and Tolliver had combined to no-hit the Renegades and only allow one baserunner. But with two outs in the eighth, Tolliver hit rightfielder Burt Reynolds to put the first runner on base since Acosta walked in the third. Then Acosta came up and launched Tolliver’s pitch over the 378-mark in left field to give Hudson Valley its first hit and lead of the game.
This squandered Copeland’s dazzling performance. Over six innings, Copeland allowed only the walk to Acosta while striking out six Renegades. This marked the second longest no-hit appearance for an IronBirds pitcher this year, after Tim Adleman’s seven no-hit innings against Staten Island on August 2. Copeland faced the minimum of 18 batters of his six innings and saw his ERA drop to 3.05.
“You gotta build that confidence up,” Copeland said. “When your confidence is up there, it’s hard to get it back down.”
“He keeps the ball down, changes speeds, and threw some good pitches tonight,” Kendall said. “He located his fastball, he changed speeds with his changeup very nicely. It’s a shame we couldn’t have gotten him a W.”
“Ahead in the count, we could throw anything,” Rauch said. “He just pounded in and pounded the zone. He comes out there and his best pitch is his fastball and we just worked from there.”
Copeland said his gameplan was to “just attack the zone, attack the hitters, pound them inside, keep them off balance.”
“From a pitching standpoint,” Kendall said, “I think he’s really, really come through and learned to pitch.”
Aberdeen jumped out early on Hudson Valley starter Miguel Sierra with a run in the first inning. Second baseman Sammie Starr got the scoring started with a one-out single to right field. Schutz laid down a bunt single and reached safely, before Gaylord’s fielder’s choice put runners on the corner with two outs. Stampone came through with a ground rule double to right field to score Starr. Sierra hit Dunlap to load the bases, but catcher Austin Rauch grounded out to leave the bases loaded.
Sierra struggled, allowing baserunners in the next five innings, but the IronBirds offense was not able to string anything together. Sierra was removed after a conference at the mount between the Hudson Valley manager and the trainer with one out in the sixth inning after Dunlap singled and Sierra struck Rauch out. Robert Dickmann replaced him. Sierra’s final line was one run on seven hits scattered over six innings. He struck out two IronBirds.
Dickmann came in and confounded the IronBirds, until the ninth, pitching three innings and allowing only the tying run in the ninth on five hits and three walks while striking out two. Hubbard (3-1, 0.53) earned the loss.
Aberdeen’s defense was on its game Thursday night, keyed by great play from Gaylord, shortstop Michael Rooney, and Stampone. Stampone showcased his athleticism in the top of the sixth, making a stretch to pick a throw from Gaylord and then again in the top of the eighth on a diving catch on a line drive off the bat of second baseman Elias Otero.
Steven Mazur (1-0, 0.59) pitched 2.1 innings in relief to earn the win.
Friday the IronBirds set out on an eight-game road trip that includes a three-game series at Tri-City, a two-game series at Staten Island, and finally a three-game series at league-leading Brooklyn. Right now, Justin Moore (3-1, 3.31), Tim Adleman (2-3, 3.14), and Tyler Sexton (1-5, 7.30) are scheduled to pitch the Tri-City series while Justin Anderson (3-4, 6.60) and Bruno Sanchez (3-3, 4.27) are scheduled to pitch against Staten Island. The IronBirds return home August 28 for a three-game series against Vermont.