The weather was close to perfect and the stands were mostly full on a beautiful Thursday evening as the minor league baseball season officially got underway in Myrtle Beach.
But that’s about all the hometown Pelicans had to be pleased with on opening night.
Shaky pitching and one gargantuan grand slam by the Salem Red Sox spoiled the evening for the hosts as Salem scored 10 runs over the first four innings and held on for a 10-3 win before an announced sellout crowd of 6,599 at TicketReturn.com Field inside Pelicans Ballpark.
“It’s hard to spot a team [that many] runs, but for me it’s getting their feet wet, toeing the rubber, getting all the cobwebs out,” new Pelicans manager Joe Mikulik said. “We haven’t had really any live competition for a week.”
It didn’t help that Pelicans pitchers issued 10 walks over the first four frames, but the big damage came from the bat of the appropriately named Ryan Dent – who punctuated the Red Sox’ strong start by crushing a grand slam down the left field line and into the last row of the bleachers as part of a six-run top of the third.
That defeating inning summed up the game for the Pelicans.
It began with left-handed starter Victor Payano walking the first three batters before getting pulled in favor or lefty reliever Sam Stafford, who didn’t fare any better. He issued a run-scoring balk on his first pitch before walking two of the first three batters he faced. And that brought Dent to the plate with the bases loaded.
The Salem second baseman had already contributed an RBI single the previous inning, and this time he got every bit of Stafford’s offering while nearly clearing the bleachers in left to make it a 9-1 game.
Stafford walked the first two batters of the fourth as well, and the Red Sox eventually peaked their lead at 10-1 as another run came home on David Chester’s fielder’s choice groundout.
“It was still exciting, to be out on the field with lights and fans," Mikulik said. "If it's opening night, it's a day that happens once a year obviously. It wasn't like, 'Oh man, we're done. I can't believe this is happening.' You can't think that way. If you think that way, it's a long [season]. We find something positive.”
For all the runs Salem scored, Dent was the only Red Sox player with multiple hits while finishing 2-for-5 with five RBIs.
Payano, meanwhile, took the loss for Myrtle Beach, giving up six runs (four earned), six walks and two hits in two innings. Stafford was charged with four earned runs while yielding four walks and one hit to go with four strikeouts over two innings before the bullpen finally settled things down.
Lefty Andrew Faulkner and right-hander Ryan Harvey combined for five scoreless innings of relief the rest of the way, and kept the divide on the scoreboard from getting any worse.
Salem had loaded the bases again with one out in the top of the sixth, but Faulkner struck out Mario Martinez and Aneury Tavarez to escape the inning unscathed in one of the few pitching highlights for Myrtle Beach on a night in which the team issued a total of 13 walks.
Offensively, designated hitter Odubel Herrera and shortstop Alberto Hanser each had two hits for the Pelicans. Third baseman Joey Gallo drove home Myrtle Beach’s first run with a sacrifice fly to deep center in the first inning, second baseman Chris Bostick had an RBI double in the fifth and Alberto had an RBI double in the eighth.
It wasn’t nearly enough to make a game of it, though.
Starter Brian Johnson earned the win for Salem, giving up two runs (one earned), four hits and two walks over five innings while striking out seven.
“I thought our guys played hard. I thought we didn’t quit,” Mikulik said. “This is a good ballclub in that clubhouse. It happens. I’ve seen worse, unfortunately.”
It’s a long season, of course, and this Pelicans team is loaded with a handful of the top-rated prospects in the Texas Rangers’ organization. Three of those players were in action Thursday night.
Catcher Jorge Alfaro is ranked as the second-best prospect in the Rangers’ system and the 54th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
Centerfielder Nick Williams, who is ranked as the Rangers’ fourth-best prospect on that list, was 1-for-5 with a double.
And Gallo, the slugging third baseman ranked fifth on the organizational chart by Baseball America, was 1-for-3 with that RBI.
The other Pelicans player to crack that organizational top-10 is right-handed pitcher Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, who is slated to start Saturday. The No. 23 overall pick in the 2013 draft, he is ranked as the top pitcher in the Rangers’ system at No. 6.
Meanwhile, fellow righty Cody Buckel, a formerly touted prospect coming off a lost 2013 season, is scheduled to start Friday night for Myrtle Beach as he – and his team – look to bounce back.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.