A disputed run helped Myrtle Beach take the first game of the Carolina League’s Mills Cup Championship Series into extra innings on Saturday night.
Lynchburg’s Anthony Santander and his teammates ensured the controversy wouldn’t carry any further in the series.
Santander hit a solo home run in the 11th inning, and a run on an error in the top of the 12th allowed Lynchburg to take the opening game of the best-of-five series 4-3 at TicketReturn Field at Pelicans Ballpark.
Lynchburg’s Yu-Cheng Chang scored the game-winning run after he singled, moved to second on a walk and scored when Pelicans third baseman Jesse Hodges hit the runner with his throw to first on a sacrifice bunt attempt.
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Though a slick double play helped the Pelicans avoid more runs in the 12th, the damage had already been done. The Pelicans went in order in the bottom of the 12th to drop the first game in defense of their 2015 Carolina League title.
Lynchburg scored single runs in the second and third innings off Pelicans starter Erick Leal and Myrtle Beach tied the game in the sixth by avoiding a triple play.
Donnie Dewees doubled to lead off the sixth for Myrtle Beach, moved to third on an infield single by David Bote on a close play at first base, and scored on a bloop single by Ian Rice that fell just in front of a sliding Connor Marabell in center field.
A Jeffrey Baez bunt single loaded the bases, and a sinking soft liner into shallow left field was caught by a diving Dorssys Paulino, who doubled Rice off second. Bote scored on the play, though Lynchburg tagged third base because it believed Bote never tagged up before scoring. The home plate umpire deemed him safe, and the run stood following an umpire conference prompted by some Lynchburg protesting.
Pelicans manager Buddy Bailey, who was coaching third base, contends that Bote properly tagged up. Lynchburg manager Mark Budzinski, whose dugout is on the third-base side, saw things differently.
“It’s a tough call for the umpires to make,” Budzinski said. “I felt like the runner never went back to tag, he was kind of hovering near the bag is what I saw. … I said I was 100 percent sure, because I felt like at the time I was, I’d probably say 99 percent now just because I haven’t seen the video yet.”
The runs in the inning were the first allowed by Hillcats starter Thomas Pannone in more than 22 1/3 innings.
The game remained tied until Santander deposited a Scott Effross pitch over the fence in right-center field.
Santander batted .290 with 20 homers in the regular season, but was just 1-for-17 in the postseason and had struck out three times in four previous at-bats Saturday. His homer was the only hit allowed by Effross in three innings of relief.
“That was a big hit there, to stay through the middle of the field, hopefully that will get him going here,” Budzinski said.
Bote, who is 9-for-14 this postseason, tied the game in the bottom of the 11th with an RBI single that scored Charcer Burks, who had walked and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Bote was thrown out at second base by catcher Francisco Mejia following the throw to home.
Bote was 4-for-5 with a walk, RBI and run scored Saturday, but Myrtle Beach left 13 runners on base compared to just six for Lynchburg, and had two runners picked off first base.
“We had many opportunities throughout the game,” Bailey said. “Bote reached five times and we didn’t get production out of people behind him really to keep the ball rolling.
The Pelicans nearly ended the game in the 10th. A diving catch with two outs by Lynchburg second baseman Tyler Krieger on a line drive by Erick Castillo likely prolonged the game, as the speedy Baez was at second base and would have either scored or been out at the plate.
Rice nearly played the hero after Myrtle Beach loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh inning on an error and two walks, but his drive to the wall in a bid for a grand slam was caught by Paulino at the top of the wall.
Myrtle Beach threatened in the bottom of the ninth after Dewees was hit by a pitch with two outs and Bote singled, but Rice was called out on strikes.
Myrtle Beach may be glad to see right-handed starter Brock Hartson on Sunday. The Pelicans had a better batting average in the regular season against lefties than they did right-handers, hitting .265 compared to .250 as a team. But it has faced three consecutive left-handers in the playoffs and has struggled against each.
After erupting for seven runs in the first three innings in the playoff opener against highly-touted Salem righthander Michael Kopech, Myrtle Beach had managed just two runs over 17 1/3 innings against the lefty starters over the past three nights before scraping out a couple runs off Pannone in the sixth.
Pannone was 3-0 with a stellar 1.65 earned-run average in eight games since joining Salem in mid-July.
Game 2 of the series is at 6:05 p.m. Sunday at Pelicans Ballpark before the season concludes at Calvin Falwell Field in Lynchburg, Va., with up to three games beginning Tuesday night.
Yasiel Balaguert, who set a Pelicans record for RBI in a season with 96, missed the game with an apparent leg injury and isn’t expected to play Sunday. So the Pelicans are receiving 19-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez of the Dominican Republic from Low-A South Bend, which just completed its season with a playoff exit, and he’s expected to be the DH and bat in the middle of the lineup on Sunday. He batted .329 with 14 home runs and 40 doubles in 112 regular-season games.
“Hopefully he swings the ball like he has been doing at South Bend. He’ll be in the lineup and get the at-bats and hopefully help our offense,” Bailey said. “… We’re just not putting enough quality at-bats together when we get guys on. Hopefully he can help us change some games. I don’t want to put it all on him, other guys have got to put in better at-bats, too.”