After hitting the road for what probably seemed like a ridiculously-long bus trip, the Legends took Game Three of the SAL Championship, 6-3. This one saw the two teams commit a combined nine errors, two wild pitches, two balks, and a passed ball.
Kyle Isbel, Nick Pratto, Cristian Perez, and Jeison Guzman had a pair of hits each, and Daniel Lynch gave the pitching staff four solid innings on which to build, as Lexington took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Lynch came loaded for bear, as he hit 95 on his second pitch of the game, and 97 (and inside) on Jake Scheiner, who still ended up reaching on an slow-rolling infield single that Perez fielded and threw to second in an unsuccessful attempt to nab Matt Vierling, who reached on Pratto’s error. In the bottom of the inning, Rodolfo Duran popped up to Manny Olloque at third, then Jhailyn Ortiz grounded into a force-out as Perez nabbed Scheiner on a 6-4 putout to Ricky Aracena at second.
In the top of the second, Perez picked up a base knock, then advanced to second, on an infield single off of an incredibly low-and-outside pitch that SS Nick Maton had to bare-hand, his throw getting well past Scheiner at first. RHP Andrew Brown then balked Perez to third. With Cal Jones popping up to Scheiner, Guzman sent a 93-MPH outside fastball to the left field wall, scoring Perez. After Aracena drew the walk, Isbel singled to center after Brown threw him back-to-back change-ups, driving in Guzman. Vierling cut into shallow center for the play and dropped the ball, allowing Aracena to score just ahead of the throw home. Isbel then had to slide back into first after Duran threw to second to head off Isbel. However, Scheiner wasn’t covering first and Isbel made it back easily. Duran got another shot at gunning down Isbel, this time springing out of the crouch and blocking a 1-0 curve that bounced about a foot in front of the plate.
Maton reached on an error by Aracena to start the bottom of the second, and after Madison Stokes went down on strikes, he made it to third on a Dalton Guthrie double to right. Jose Antequera got Maton home on a sac fly to Isbel in center, but Guthrie was left stranded after Vierling flew to Brewer Hicklen in left.
In the top of the third, Brown had trouble locating and walked Melendez. This was followed by a single from Pratto off a 2-0 inside fastball grounded to right that turned into runners on second and third after the ball got past Ortiz. Hicklen sacrificed to center and Melendez came home. After a strikeout for Olloque, Perez lined a single into left off a 2-1 fastball and Pratto scored. Vierling threw home in a failed attempt to get the runner, but Duran cut down Perez at second when he tried to advance on the throw.
Lynch got Muzziotti to start the bottom of the third on a 1-0 fastball that he tried to pull, only to ground out to Pratto. Scheiner was able to send a 94-MPH heater to center for a base hit, and Duran reached when Olloque couldn’t stop his grounder. Scheiner and Duran advanced into scoring position when Lynch was called for a balk. Ortiz worked the count full after Lynch worked back from a 3-0 count, and Scheiner scored when Ortiz put the next pitch in the air to Cal Jones in shallow-right-center, whose throw to third kept Duran at second. Maton struck out to end the threat.
After Jones worked the count full but struck out to start the top of the fourth, Guzman sent a base hit into right. Aracena followed that with a single of his own, Guzman advancing to third. Brown was able to induce the double-play grounder from Isbel on a high-and-inside pitch to end the inning.
Stokes grounded to Perez for the first out of the bottom of the inning, but Guthrie sent a 1-2 pitch into right field that Lynch left high in the zone. Jose Antequera sent his own base hit into left on another high pitch, but Vierling grounded into a 5-4 force-out, once again on a high pitch in virtually the same spot. Muzziotti struck out swinging on a low-and-away pitch, stranding two.
The top of the fifth began with Melendez grounding out to Scheiner at first. Back-to-back singles by Pratto and Hicklen put runners on first and second, though this was followed by back-to-back fly-outs to center by Olloque and Perez and it all went for naught. Scheiner started the Lakewood half with a “single” to Perez after an eight-pitch battle with Legends reliever Garrett Suchey (it hit the heel of his glove, but he had to range back into shallow-left-center to get it). Duran walked on five pitches, then Ortiz struck out on three pitches, foul-tipping a 79-MPH curve into Melendez’s glove, while trying to hit the ball to Pennsylvania. Maton singled on a 1-0 change-up that sat high in the zone, but Jones’ throw home kept the bases loaded. Stokes drove in Scheiner on a base hit to center, and that would be it for Suchey.
With RHP Collin Snider taking over, an 0-1 95-MPH fastball ended in a 5-4-3 double play, and with it the best chance Lakewood had to even the score.
A 1-2-3 top of the sixth took the BlueClaws only six pitches to get through, as RHP Luis Carrasco‘s easy heat (96-97) dominated Lexington’s batters. Third baseman Antequera made a very good throw to retire Aracena for the third out, coming in and just over the foul line on the weak grounder, then throwing across his body to Scheiner to get the runner. Snider began the bottom of the inning with a 95-MPH inside on the Lakewood third baseman. He sent the next pitch, another fastball up and in, to his counterpart at third, but Olloque’s bad throw was more than Pratto could handle, and thus allowed Antequera to reach. Vierling grounded into what might have been a 6-4-3, but Perez had to get a handle on the ball when it hopped inches from his feet, and Vierling beat out the turn from Aracena. Muzziotti lined 96-MPH heat on a hard liner to Olloque, who gloved it for the second out. Scheiner singled to center and Vierling moved up a base, but Duran flew out to Hicklen to end the inning.
Isbel lost an eight-pitch at-bat with Carrasco to start the top of the seventh. Melendez sent a liner into center that Muzziotti booted, then advanced to second when the Lakewood center fielder semi-casually threw the ball back to the infield. After Pratto walked, Hicklen struck out and Melendez was caught while trying to swipe third, the final out of the inning. In the bottom half, RHP Daniel Duarte took over from Snider, with Ortiz striking out swinging, Maton striking out looking, and Stokes grounding out to Duarte.
It was a quiet top of the eighth, with Olloque, Perez, and Jones out in order. In the bottom half, Olloque was lifted for Carlos Diaz. Duarte added another pair of strikeouts in Guthrie and Antequera to start the bottom half, but Vierling would send an 87-MPH slider to left for a two-out double. Muzziotti, however, was first-pitch-swinging and flew out to Isbel.
Lefty Keylan Killgore came out to pitch the top of the ninth, retiring Guzman on a fly-out to left and Aracena on swinging strikes. Isbel singled to center when Killgore located back-to-back pitches in the same middle-high part of the zone. Duran lost hold of a middle-in pitch from Killgore and Isbel took off for second, then advanced to third on a wide-ranging throw to second. A wild pitch later, Isbel scored to make it 6-3, Lexington. After Melendez walked, another wild pitch to Pratto allowed him to move to second. Killgore got Pratto on a swinging strike three after ten pitches, but Duran still had to throw him out at first when the pitch skipped off his glove and rolled a couple of feet away. Lakewood’s final three outs were not nearly as eventful, as closer Tad Ratliff sat down Scheiner and Duran on strikes, with Ortiz popping up to Melendez in foul territory to end the game.
Snider picked up the win, with Duarte earning the hold and Ratliff getting his second save of the series. Lakewood’s Brown took the loss.
Lynch threw 57 of his 79 pitches for strikes over four innings of work, allowing two runs on five hits, walking none and striking out four. Suchey was 14-24 for strikes, giving up one run on three hits in a third of an inning before giving way to Snider, who was 12-18 for strikes in 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Duarte’s four strikeouts in his two shutout innings of relief were another highlight for the Legends. He spotted fifteen of nineteen pitches for strikes. Ratliff followed suit, with 11 of 15 in the zone.
Tonight, Lakewood’s Spencer Howard (9-8, 3.78 ERA) will get the start. Lexington will counter with JC Cloney (3-1, 2.73 ERA with Lexington; 12-1, 2.21 ERA overall). First pitch time is 7:05 PM, EST.