Clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday night, it looked like the Carolina Mudcats had earned a major momentum boost when reliever Grant Sides struck out scorching slugger Joey Gallo with no outs and two runners on base for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
But while Sides won that power vs. power battle, blowing strike three past the minor league home run leader in a clutch spot, the Pelicans weren’t deterred.
Christopher Bostick punched an RBI single up the middle just between the reach of the converging shortstop and second baseman to tie the score and spur a four-run, game-seizing inning for the home team.
Hanser Alberto smacked a two-out go-ahead single to center field to plate two runs and Kevin Torres followed with an RBI single to center as the Pelicans rallied for a 5-2 win over the Mudcats at TicketReturn.com Field to extend their winning streak to eight games
“Gallo’s had a great year, but there’s other guys on this team that have contributed all year long,” said Pelicans pitching coach Steve Mintz, who was filling in as manager the last three games. “And that was just one of those cases there – we had other guys. They stepped up and got a couple key hits.”
The Pelicans (37-17) had struck first with a run in the bottom of the first inning, but they hadn’t scored again before mounting their comeback in the eighth while trailing 2-1.
After Nick Williams singled to lead off the bottom of the inning, Jorge Alfaro drew a walk to put two runners on with no outs and Gallo coming to the plate.
Gallo had already slugged three home runs in the first two games of the series and a minor leagues-best 21 for the season as he stepped to the plate to face Sides, who was just taking over on the mound.
The hard-throwing right-hander entered the game with a sterling 1.29 earned-run average through 21 innings and needed only four pitches to strike out Gallo, but the surging first-place Pelicans would once again find a way to prevail.
Williams took third on a pitch in the dirt to put further pressure on the Mudcats (23-31), and Bostick came through with his second RBI single of the game to give the Pelicans the breakthrough they needed.
“We get to the seventh, eighth inning and we’re down by one run, there’s no panic at all in the dugout,” Bostick said. “Everyone’s still there, everyone’s ready. It’s not that we expect to do it, but we know that we can at least battle all the way to the end. Everybody’s prepared to do what they need to do.”
Bostick finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored to lead the Pelicans offensively while Torres’ RBI single was his first hit in two games with Myrtle Beach since being promoted from Class-A Hickory. He also played for the Pelicans last year.
In addition to those big hits in the eighth, the Pelicans’ middle infield contributed two of the game’s best defensive highlights. Bostick made a leaping, stretching catch at second base on a hard-hit liner in the top of the fourth, and Alberto – the team’s slick-fielding shortstop – ended the top of the eighth inning by ranging to corral a grounder up the middle before spinning and gunning to first in one motion.
Jose Monegro (1-0) earned the win in relief, pitching the final three innings while allowing just one hit and no runs. The 24-year-old is pitching for his third team in the organization already this season after stops at Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock and was making his second appearance for the Pelicans.
Victor Payano had started the game for Myrtle Beach, giving up five hits, five walks and two runs while striking out five over six innings.
Josh Martin (2-3), who was responsible for the first two runners on base in the bottom of the eighth, was charged with the loss while Sides took his first blown save.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, just keep cruising. Their eight-game winning streak is a season high and they boast a comfortable 10.5-game lead in the Carolina League’s Southern Division with 14 games left in the season’s first half.
As far as the reliable record-keeping that goes back to 2004, the Pelicans are off to their best-ever start. The club record for most wins in the season’s first half is 45 (set in 70 games in 2008), and the team is on pace to break that mark in a 68-game first half this year.
“Just the whole group, all 25 guys in here fighting, pulling on the same side of the rope every day and getting focused and ready to play a ballgame, that’s all we can ask of them win or lose,” Mintz said. “But definitely winning keeps the morale going a whole lot better.”
NOTES: Joe Mikulik is expected to return as Pelicans manager Monday after taking the last three games off as part of a break from the game encouraged for all coaches in the Rangers’ system.
Mintz said he enjoyed his time in the manager’s office in the meanwhile.
“It’s been a ton of fun and [I’ve been] excited to do it and see how it is,” he said. “[It adds] another avenue to your list of things that you can do, and I’m just thankful the Rangers gave me an opportunity to do it.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.