Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mikie Mahtook's consecutive hits streak steals spotlight in Charlotte Knights loss to Durham

By Seth Lakso, Charlotte Observer Correspondent 

By the end of the night, even Knights fans were pulling for Mikie Mahtook.

The Durham Bulls had jumped out to an early lead on their way to defeating the Knights 9-2 in front of an announced crowd of 8,671 at BB&T Ballpark on Tuesday night, leaving the Bulls’ rightfielder as the game’s main attraction by the time he came to the plate in the top of the eighth inning.

Mahtook stepped into the box 11-for-his-last-11, 9-for-9 in the series against the Knights, and a home run away from the cycle.

Knights’ reliever Taylor Thompson watched as Mahtook took a vicious cut at his first pitch -- an inside fastball -- and fouled it off. Mahtook then did the same thing on Thompson’s next offering.

With the count 0-2, the Charlotte righthander went with a slider away and finally put an end to Mahtook’s remarkable run with his third strikeout in two innings of work.

“Honestly, I should have gone up with the same approach I’d had all night,” said Mahtook whose run ended four hits shy of George Quellich’s all-time International League mark of 15-straight hits, set while he was with Reading in 1929. “I kind of got swing happy and got out of my approach a little bit there and he made some good pitches and I chased a couple times and he got me out.

“It was going to come to an end at some point,” continued Mahtook, who was drafted by the Rays in 2011 with the compensation pick they got back when the Yankees signed Raphael Soriano. “I wasn’t going to go whatever for my next whatever, you know, but it was fun while it lasted.”

Still, Mahtook finished the night 4-for-5 and was a thorn in the side of Knights starter Eric Surkamp, who fell to 0-2 on the season after allowing seven runs on nine hits over the course of four innings.

Surkamp’s counterpart, Enny Romero improved to 2-0 against the Knights this season with a five-inning, four-hit, one run performance. Romero struck out five on the night.

Catawba College alumni, Jerry Sands (2-for-4) also had a big night at the plate for the Bulls, finishing with two home runs and four runs knocked in.

Sands’ first home run was a no-doubter to centerfield, but his second traveled about 320 feet down the right field line.

Asked if he was a fan of the Knights' new home, Sands – who walked out of the locker room in a Catawba College tee shirt – replied, “Yeah, we all were fans of this new ballpark already. The first day we took BP out here, we knew it was a nice place to hit. Down the lines, it definitely goes, the gaps get a little bit big, but right and left it goes pretty good.” 

Charlotte shortstop Alex Liddi (2-for-4) hit his first home run of the season in the seventh inning and finished the night as Charlotte's only player with more than one hit.

The win was the sixth in a row for the Bulls (10-3), whose pitchers limited the Knights (6-7) to just five hits on the night and eight total in the short two-game series sweep.

After doubling in the second inning, singling in the fourth and lacing a triple in the fifth, Mahtook -- who began the streak with a .275 average and ended it at .408 -- actually wound up with two chances to complete his cycle.

In the seventh inning, he took the first two pitches he saw from Thompson for balls before lining a single back through the box. 

“Mikie is a pretty talented guy,” said Sands. “He’s got a bunch of tools and that was one of the more impressive streaks I’ve ever seen.”