Small Ball, Big Fly Propel RailRiders
MOOSIC — RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell talked to his team before Friday night’s game.
With trades and injuries ravaging the roster the past few days, Mitchell felt the time was right for a bit of a reset; a chance to remind his players there is still a lot of talent on the club.
Mitchell told them without big bats like Billy McKinney and Brandon Drury around anymore, they might have to turn to more small ball to get things done on offense — some bunting, some hit-and--runs.
The RailRiders took the message into the game against Gwinnett, and small ball helped them keep pace with the Stripers.
The long ball helped them pull away, however.
Tyler Austin’s towering homer broke a tie in the seventh inning, then Abiatal Avelino’s grand slam in the eighth gave the RailRiders more than enough padding to defeat Gwinnett, 9-3, at PNC Field.
“We played a little bit of small ball today,” Mitchell said. “We had a hit-and-run that we didn’t execute really because our guy on first didn’t really take off on time. We had the bunt. And then, we decided to go deep, hit a couple homers, which was good to see. A mixture of everything.”
The teams traded small-ball plays for most of the game. Sacrifice flies helped Gwinnett tie the game in the sixth and seventh innings. The RailRiders set up Bruce Caldwell’s sixth-inning sacrifice fly with Francisco Diaz’s sac bunt.
SWB had the power to pull away.
Austin welcomed reliever Fernando Salas with a towering blast to left-center field that pushed the RailRiders ahead, 4-3, in the seventh, taking a second to watch it sail to the concourse above the bullpens.
“It changes (the game) a lot,” Avelino said of Austin’s home run.
“We feel more comfortable when that happens.”
Diaz doubled in the eighth, then walks by Bruce Caldwell and Mark Payton loaded the bases. Mike Ford, who had an RBI double in the fifth inning, worked a walk off Gwinnett reliever Miguel Socolovich to make it 5-3, then Avelino sent a rising line drive out to left that didn’t come down until it landed in the Gwinnett bullpen for a grand slam.
“I feel really happy about that,” Avelino said. “We’re winning the game. That’s (what’s) most important.”
It was Avelino’s 14th home run of the season between Double-A and Triple-A, and only the 30th in 613 career games.
“That’s the game. That’s baseball,” Avelino said. “Last year was last year. Now is the present. I’m working hard (with) my swing, my (consistency). That’s good for me right now.”
It was the RailRiders’ second grand slam of the season. Drury hit the other May 11.
Erik Swanson started for the RailRiders and pounded Gwinnett with fastball after fastball. He hit 97 mph on the stadium gun, and sat between 94-96 mph. His lone mistake came off a poorly located changeup, which Danny Santana launched to the sidewalk above the lawn in right center for a solo home run and a 1-0 Gwinnett lead in the fourth inning.
“I felt really good going into the game,” Swanson said. “Eight days off kind of helps. I felt good. Fastball had some life to it. Slider was a good pitch for me tonight. Changeup was a good pitch, just threw the wrong one, wrong count.”
Swanson struck out seven and walked one. He allowed two hits in four innings.
“You look at our clubhouse right now, we’ve got, I don’t know, four or five new guys in the last three days, something like that?” Swanson said. “We’ve had what, four guys, five guys that have left? It’s a little bit different. But yeah it definitely feels good (to get this win).”
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