Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tyler Saladino's late home run leads Charlotte Knights over Norfolk

By Seth Lakso, Charlotte Observer Correspondent 

One poorly-timed blink and you could have missed it.

Trailing by a run in the eighth, with one out and runners on the corners, Jared Mitchell hit a routine ground ball to short.

The Knights centerfielder, who double-majored in baseball and football during his time at Louisiana State University before the White Sox made him their first-round selection in the 2009 draft, sent bits of chalk and dirt cascading into the air as sprinted toward first. 

He wound up beating out the attempted double-play by a fraction of a step, allowing the runner on third to tie the game in the process.

Then came the fireworks, not the real ones, like the kind they'd shot off at BB&T Ballpark the night before, but ones that elicited oohs and aaas nonetheless.

Mitchell’s hustle brought Tyler Saladino to the plate and the Knights’ shortstop brought them both home with a towering blast into the Charlotte night sky.

Saladino’s leisurely trot around the bases gave the Knights a 4-2 win over the Norfolk Tides and sent a capacity crowd of 10,200, home feeling they’d somehow snuck away with a Saturday night worth more than the $15 dollar price listed on most of their stubs.

“(Mitchell) beating out that double play in the eighth was the play of the game,” said Knights coach Joel Skinner. “It kept (us) alive and set the table for the things that happened after that.”

The win was the Knights first at their newly christened Ballpark.

It didn’t make up for the 8-6 loss to the Tides in the opener the night before, but it did alleviate any need for uncomfortable questions regarding the pressure to win a game in the team's new $54 million dollar castle.

“It came in good fashion,” said Saladino of the win. “It was a tough game, both sides ground it out, there wasn’t a lot of scoring. We got good pitching when we needed it and came through offensively when we needed (to). That win, right there, was a big one.”

Both the Knights (5-5) and Tides (3-6) got strong efforts from their starters, though neither ultimately figured in the decision.

T.J. McFarland, who was a perfectly serviceable 4-1 with a 4.22 ERA in 38 appearances with the Baltimore Orioles last season, tossed five scoreless innings for the Tides, scattering three hits and striking out five.

Charlotte’s southpaw, Charlie Leesman, matched McFarland pitch-for-pitch until the fifth inning, when he allowed a solo home run to Julio Borbon (2-for-4).

Prior to the fifth inning, Leesman had recorded every out via groundball or strikeout. His final line read, five innings pitched, six hits, one run and four strikeouts.

The Knights countered Borbon’s home run with a run of their own in the seventh.

When veteran reliever Mitchell Boggs allowed the Tides to take a one-run lead after a walk and a double in the top of the eighth, the Knights, again, were able to answer thanks to the hustle of Mitchell.

“The key to that whole at-bat was Mitchell’s at-bat right before it,” said Saladino, was asked about his first home run of the season. “He ground out a good (at-bat). Being on deck, I just let that play out and watched what was happening. When he beat that ball out and tied the game up, it took a lot of pressure off my at-bat.

“Once I came up, in that situation, I was just looking for a pitch to hit. I didn’t want to wait too long. If he laid something in there early in the at-bat, I wanted to jump on it, He did, and I got it done.”