It was the seven, eight, nine batters that showed up in Friday night’s home opener at BB&T Ballpark for the Charlotte Knights.
In front of a sellout crowd of 10,231, Denis Phipps, Tyler Saladino and Jared Mitchell combined to go 5-for-13 with six runs scored and three runs batted in, while the Knights’ top six turned in a 4-for-30 performance, with the Knights falling 8-6 to the Norfolk Tides in 12 innings.
The final blow came on a two-out double by Caleb Joseph off Knights right-hander Ryan Kussmaul (0-1). Preston Guilmet (1-0) struck out the side in the 12th to record the win after already tossing a perfect 11th.
“They just ended up getting the last base hit,” said Knights coach Joel Skinner. “When you play extra-innings, whoever gets the last two-out base with men on base is going to win the game.”
Phipps christened the ballpark with its first home run in the third inning – a no-doubter to left-center – to the game at 1, Saladino scored key runs in the third and seventh innings and Mitchell finished a triple short of the cycle.
Dylan Axelrod got the start and turned in a solid performance, allowing four hits and three runs while striking out eight in five innings.
The Tides took a 1-0 lead in the top half of the third inning after Julio Borbon drew a walk and then scored on a Jemile Weeks’ opposite-field double.
The Knights had an answer in the bottom half of the inning.
Phipps led off with his first home run of the season. A walk to Saladino and a Mitchell double off the wall gave Charlotte its first home lead.
In a smart base-running decision, Mitchell then tagged up and moved to third on a Blake Tekotte fly to center and came in to score on a single by Carlos Sanchez. Tides starter Steve Johnson then got Josh Phegley to ground into a double play to end the inning.
The Tides tied the game with a two-run fifth inning that could have been worse for the Knights if it weren’t for a diving catch by Mitchell in left field.
The Knights answered in the bottom half of the inning, when Mitchell sent a 3-0 fastball into the stands in right-center field for his team-leading second home run.
“He squared up a ball and was able to kind of block a ball that ended up going off the wall in left,” said Skinner of Mitchell’s performance. “Any time you go out there and get three knocks like he did and make a play going down the line where he had to leave his feet, it’s nice.”
The Tides then played some long ball in the seventh inning, hitting two home runs (one solo and one with a runner on) to take a two-run lead. On the Tides’ second home run of the inning, a Knights fan threw the ball back on to the field to some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Again, the Knights answered with two runs (scored by Saladino and Mitchell) in the seventh to tie the game at 6.
Knights pitchers combined to strike out a season-high 15.
The two teams will play the second game of their weekend series at 7:05 Saturday at BB&T Ballpark.
“Obviously, you want to win the game,” said Skinner. “But when you put a ballpark like this together and you pack as many people in it as we did tonight, that was just pluses across the board.”
TIDES 8, KNIGHTS 6 (12)
Friday’s box score
E — Weeks. DP–Norfolk 1, Charlotte 1. LOB– Norfolk 6, Charlotte 5. 2B–Borbon, Weeks, Mitchell, Davidson, Sanchez, Marrero, Joseph. 3B–Borbon. HR—Phipps, Mitchell, Berry, Paul. SF–Weeks. SB–Borbon. CS—Saladino.
|Guilmet W, 1-0||2.0||0||0||0||0||4|
|Kussmaul L, 0-1||1.0||2||2||2||1||2|