Charlotte Knights 8, Indianapolis Indians 1
A busy first inning was all the Charlotte Knights needed to defeat the Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field tonight in the first game of the first round of the International League playoffs. Knights’ starter Charlie Leesman dominated the Indians’ batters, allowing just one run on 6 hits and one walk, with 6 strikeouts in 8 innings of work.
The Knights jumped right onto Tribe starter Rick VandenHurk in the top of the 1st. With one out, VandenHurk gave up three consecutive hits — a double off the right-center field wall by 2B Drew Garcia, a double into the right field corner by 3B Brent Morel, driving in Garcia, and a 2-run home run just inside the right field foul pole by 1B Seth Loman. That gave the Knights a 3-run lead, with only one out in the game. VandenHurk got a fly out and a strike out to end the inning.
The Indians got one of the runs back in the bottom of the frame. CF Starling Marte, who has joined the Indians for a couple of days on a rehab assignment, led off by grounding to shortstop and beating out the throw to first base for an infield hit. SS Chase d’Arnaud lined a single into center field, as Marte rounded second and headed to third. 3B Hector Luna grounded to third, where Morel began what could have been a double play. He got the force out on d’Arnaud at second, but d’Arnaud disrupted Knights’ 2B Garcia so that he could not get off a throw to first. Marte scored from third base, putting the Indians onto the scoreboard, 3-1, before a double play ended the inning.
After that, it was all Charlotte, and all Leesman. Leesman struck out the side in the 2nd. He gave up a walk to 2B Anderson Hernandez with one out in the 3rd. Marte followed with a grounder smashed to second base. Garcia stopped the ball from going into the outfield, but then dropped it. He was able to pick the ball up again, but by then only had a play at second base. Marte was safe at first, but was left there when d’Arnaud flied out.
Just as Knights’ LF Jared Mitchell made the catch on d’Arnaud’s fly ball, the lights went out at Victory Field. The field lights were out, and the lights in the seating bowl, though there was still power behind the concourse. The lights also went out in the ballroom of the hotel across the street, and in the parking garage diagonally across the way. After 10 minutes or so, the lights came back on at the hotel and parking garage. Shortly after that, the stadium lights began to come on again. The total time of the delay was 17 minutes, and luckily for both teams, that was not enough time to bother either starting pitcher.
Leesman was definitely not influenced by the delay. He returned to the field and continued mowing down Indians’ batters. After the force play at second on Hernandez, Leesman retired the next 10 Tribe batters in order. Luna broke that streak, when he grounded sharply past the second baseman for a lead-off single in the 7th. Luna got as far as third base, when DH Yamaico Navarro doubled down the right field line. His ball hit the ground on the line, sending up a puff of chalk dust, then continued on into the right field corner. The two runners were left in scoring position though, as a tapper back to the mound ended the inning.
Leesman had another quick 1-2-3 inning in the 8th, then came back out to begin the top of the 9th. He was tiring by then, and his pitch count was already 102 when he began the 9th, hoping to make it a complete game. D’Arnaud and Luna spoiled that idea, when they led off the bottom of the 9th with back-to-back singles. D’Arnaud grounded to third and beat the throw to first base for an infield hit. Luna hit a twisting blooper into short left field, giving the Indians two runners on base in their last chance. Leesman was relieved at that point by Brandon Kloess, who got out of the jam with a ground out to second base, and a pair of strike outs.
Meanwhile, VandenHurk was having to work around runners on base in every inning. LF Jared Mitchell tripled on a long fly into the left-center field gap to begin the top of the 2nd. VandenHurk had settled down a bit by then. He took care of an infield pop by himself, then struck out the next two batters, leaving Mitchell stranded on third. VandenHurk gave up a two-out double off the right field wall to Loman in the 3rd. RF Dallas McPherson played the carom off the wall and fired back to second base, where he nearly had the out on Loman. D’Arnaud made the tag on Loman, but then dropped the ball, and Loman was safe. C Josh Phegley, an Indiana native, took a walk, but VandenHurk got out of the inning with a grounder force out on Phegley.
In the 4th, VandenHurk got around a single by RF Brandon Short, and in the 5th, he worked around back-to-back singles by Morel and Loman. A timely double play started by d’Arnaud at shortstop helped VandenHurk get through that inning.
The Knights took advantage of VandenHurk’s mistakes in the 6th. The inning began with a walk to CF Trayce Thompson, who then stole second base. After a strike out, SS Carlos Sanchez also walked. Short then ripped a sinking liner down the right field line. McPherson ran toward it and tried for a diving catch — but missed. The ball bounced on into the corner for a bases-clearing triple. That prompted a visit to the mound by manager Dean Treanor, and VandenHurk’s exit. He had thrown 95 pitches and was responsible for 6 runs on 9 hits with one walk in 5.1 innings. His one bright note is that he struck out 7 batters in 5.1 innings. Jo-Jo Reyes came in from the bullpen to take the mound. Reyes threw a wild pitch, which gave Short the chance to score from third base, giving Charlotte a 6-1 lead.
Reyes also stayed in the game to pitch the 7th inning, and this time the Knights jumped on him. With one out, Reyes hit Loman with a pitch. Phegley followed with a huge blast for a home run over the left- field wall, and the Knights had an 8-1 lead.
Logan Kensing pitched the 8th inning. He gave up a single to DH Greg Golson, but forced him out at second base on a grounder to Hernandez. Tim Wood came on for the 9th inning. It was clearly not a save situation, but Wood had not pitched in several days and just needed the opportunity to get into a game. Wood also hit Loman with a pitch. Phegley grounded to third, but the ball bounced up and over Luna’s glove an into short right field. Loman raced around second and headed for third base, with 2B Anderson Hernandez running almost along side him in anticipation. Sure enough, Luna tracked down the ball in the outfield and fired back to third base. Hernandez had actually reached the bag before Loman did, and as the ball came in to him, Hernandez had plenty of time to tag out Loman. Wood gave up another single to Mitchell with two outs, and a ground out ended the inning.
VandenHurk was charged with the Loss. The Indians posted 6 hits, with 2 each for Chase d’Arnaud and Hector Luna. Starling Marte and Yamaico Navarro had the only other two hits, and Navarro’s was a double — the only extra base hit the Indians had in this game.
The two teams will have a rematch on Wednesday evening at Victory Field. The two teams will then travel to Charlotte for the remaining games of this best-of-5 series.
Indians’ Hitting Gem of the Game: Back-to-back singles by Starling Marte and Chase d’Arnaud in the 1st inning, which set up Marte to score the Indians’ lone run.
Indians’ Defensive Gem of the Game: 3B Hector Luna’s quick recovery of the ball off Josh Phegley’s bat in the top of the 9th. He chased it down in right field, then got it back to the infield in time to get the out at third on Seth Loman, who was running from first ball.
Starling Marte looked just fine in this rehab action. He ran well, just like his old self. He played 7 innings today, per instructions from the Pirates. Tomorrow he is expected to play for all 9 innings.
In the other half of the playoffs, the Pawtucket Red Sox beat the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees 7-4.