The seventh inning of the Charlotte Knight’s 5-2 loss to Rochester on Tuesday night was the kind that separates winning teams from those still learning how to put a game away.
The Knights followed the script to begin the frame when Tyler Saladino singled. Jared Mitchell kept things on track when he laid down a two-strike bunt. Gorkys Hernandez then played his part with a hard-hit groundout to second to move Saladino to third and a four-pitch walk to Marcus Semien, brought Carlos Sanchez to the plate.
Sanchez sent a 3-2 pitch back up the middle only to see it speared at the last second by the Rochester reliever to end the threat.
The play sucked most the life out of the crowd of 9,169 at BB&T BallPark and a three-run eighth by Rochester had the doctors calling the time of death with an inning and a half remaining.
“Our guys barreled a few balls and gave themselves a chance," Knights manager Joel Skinner said. "The next half inning, they were able to go out there and string three or four hits together and that was the game.”
The win improved the Red Wings to 32-25 on the season and dropped Charlotte to 20-38 and 3-9 in games tied in the fifth inning or later.
“Momentum, or no momentum, we just came out and made some mistakes and they got their hits in and we didn’t,” Knight catcher Josh Phegley said. “It’s deflating when they score that late, but you’ve got nine innings and nine chances. We did what we could that inning and it didn't work out.”
The first three Red Wings reached base against Knights starter Tommy Hanson to begin the game, with Eric Farris eventually scoring on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Deibinson Romero.
Three innings later, Wilkins’ team-leading 10th home run of the season knotted the game at 1. The round-tripper broke up a string of four in a row (three by way of the K) retired by Rochester starter Logan Darnell.
In the bottom of the fifth, Marcus Semien’s first hit since joining the Knights two days ago, gave Charlotte the lead when it came to rest several rows deep in the left-field bleachers.
Romero returned the favor in the top half of the sixth, sending a 1-1 pitch out on a line to left. It was the first hit off Hanson since the first in what wound up being a nice bounce-back performance for the right-hander, who allowed seven runs in 2.2 inning in his previous start.
Hanson went six innings on Tuesday, allowing four hits, striking out six, and walking two. He threw 98 pitches (61 for strikes).
“Hanson was using his slider a lot today and they weren’t really making the adjustment,” Phegley said. “He got a few good swing and missed on his new changeup that he’s been working on too. He threw the ball well.”
With four games remaining in the next three days against the Red Wings – including two on Wednesday – the Knights will have plenty of opportunities to come up with that crucial game-winning hit.