Oakeyland----Two starts after fanning eleven batters against the Boom Sticks, and in only his 13th-ever BARB start, Frostbite Falls rookie Rich Hill flirted with immortality, taking a no-hitter into the seventh but could only watch helplessly as the bullpen nearly blew the win.
Hill (6-4, 4.77) wasn’t perfect, walking three, but he was also unlucky. After his club had taken a 4-0 lead against losing pitcher Jeff Francis (11-7, 3.82), the game was interrupted by an 84-minute rain delay following the bottom of the sixth. Ballers reliever Scott Baker stiffened up, but Hill (with a no-no on the line) came out to start the seventh with a 4-0 lead. With two out, Eric Byrnes singled and—eager to protect the young lefty’s arm following the delay—the Squirrels elected to take him out.
The Ballers then nearly made a game of it. Eric Gagne loaded the bases by hitting Mark Ellis and Andruw Jones on consecutive pitches, and Pat Neshek allowed a sac fly and a seeing-eye single to score a pair of runs before Jorge Posada’s long fly was caught at the base of the wall in left. A few more feet, and Posada would’ve hit a three-run homer! At any rate, Joe Nathan came on in the ninth for his 21st save, tying Francisco Rodriguez and Trevor Hoffman for the BARB lead, and the Squirrels won, 4-2.
In other BARB action:
YUMA 7, ARIZONA 3 (1st game of DH)
WP: Roy Halladay (10-5, 3.61)
LP: Octavio Dotel (0-1, 4.50)
SV: Shields (1)
ARIZONA 3, YUMA 1 (2nd game of DH)
WP: Cole Hamels (5-7, 5.40)
LP: Carlos Zambrano (7-6, 3.55)
SV: Cordero (9)
The D-Backs pulled above .500 (50-49) and won a series with their rivals, splitting the final getaway doubleheader with West-leading Yuma, suggesting that the club might yet get back into the wild card race once divisional play starts again. In the opener, the D-Backs had a 3-1 lead as Felix Hernandez outpitched Halladay, but the bullpen couldn’t hold it, with the big blow being Russell Martin’s two-run single, which (aided by a poor throw from new CF B.J. Upton) led to a four-run seventh. Martin would also later homer for an insurance run to clinch the first game. In the second game, Cole Hamels got an early 2-1 lead courtesy of Jose Reyes’s 38th stolen base and a clutch single by Magglio Ordonez. In the ninth, the Firebirds loaded the bases off Francisco Cordero, but the mid-season acquisition struck out Nick Markakis to end the game and assure the split.
DARWIN 4, LAS VEGAS 2
WP: Chad Billingsley (4-3, 5.10)
LP: Chuck James (8-3, 4.70)
SV: Hoffman (22)
Eric Chavez hit a pair of solo homers batting ninth in the lineup and Aaron Rowand added a two-run shot to give young Chad Billingsley a 4-0 lead after five frames, and the Finches would survive some poor defense by rookie catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, hold on and win on the road in Las Vegas. In the sixth, with Jonathan Broxton in relief, ‘Salty’ allowed two passed balls and failed to tag home plate on a force play to give the Luchadores life, but the smouldering Broxton fanned Manny Ramirez with runners on to end the threat. With the win, Darwin became the first BARB club to reach the 60-game plateau and took sole possession of first place in the East.
POTTSYLVANIA 5, WORCESTER 4
WP: Billy Wagner (5-6, 4.15)
LP: Brad Lidge (2-2, 4.72)
The injury-ravage and nearly punchless Creepers managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat, rallying to win against East-leading Worcester after entering the ninth trailing 4-2, spoiling Jeremy Sowers’ best outing in months. Brad Lidge, who had bailed out Sowers with two down in the eighth by fanning So Taguchi, began the ninth by striking out pinch-hitter Ricky Weeks on three pitches. But pinch-hitter Nick Punto worked a walk after fouling off three 1-2 sliders and distracted Lidge by stealing second, and Chone Figgins took a four-pitch walk to put two runners on. That brought up the diminuitive Marcus Giles, who took a 3-2 pitch that looked like a strike to load the bases with one out. Trying to get one over, Lidge grooved one for Manny Mora with three rabbits on base and in motion, and Mora lined a double to score...Punto....Figgins!.....Giles, running all the way from first!!! Ball game! A walkoff, three-run double!
SAN JOSE 2, BLACK MESA 1
WP: Aaron Harang (8-7, 4.40)
LP: Jon Garland (7-8, 3.69)
SV: Riske (2)
Aaron Harang struck out eight, and Jermaine Dye doubled in a run and scored as part of a two-run first, all that Harang and the Rockets pen would need, as two Western cellar-dwellers and possible ‘sellers’ played a tight game in Black Mesa. The Anomalies fell another half-game in the standings due to Yuma splitting a double dip with Arizona, and the time has probably come for that club to open up the vault and see exactly what another BARB team in the playoff hunt might pay for a starter or a reliever.