Monday, June 30, 2014

Matt Davidson's walk-off home run highlights long day of baseball for Charlotte Knights

It’s getting to the point where the fans in the outfield at BB&T BallPark – which measures just 330 feet to left and 315’ to right – might want to consider borrowing hard hats from the construction crew working on Fourth Street.

Before Monday’s double-header against the Gwinnett Braves, Knights outfielder Jordan Danks took a look at the flag blowing out and offered a bit of advice to his teammates.

“It’s a good day to put the ball in the air boys,” he said.

Two games and a combined 10 home runs – including a walk-off shot by Matt Davidson in the 10th inning of Game 2 – later and it’s safe to say Danks had a good grasp on how BB&T BallPark was going to play.

There have now been 115 long balls (59 by opponents, 56 by the Knights) hit in Charlotte in 41 games this season – 31 more than Columbus’ Huntington Park, which ranks second in the International League with 84, while the league average stands at 60.0.

Davidson’s was the first of the 115 to be of the walk-off variety and gave the Knights a 7-5 Game 2 win. It was his second of the night and is a lock to become the answer to a Knights’ trivia question someday.

“Things feel good,” said Davidson, who is hitting .353 (12-for-34) over his last 10 games. “But I’m never going to act like I’ve figured it out again in my whole life. Coming out of spring (training) I felt great and then all of the sudden I lost it. I’m just going to keep on working and really focus every single at-bat.”  

The 2-for-4 showing brought the White Sox top prospect’s average up to .201 on the season.

In his second start in Charlotte since being acquired from the Blue Jays organization, Knights right-hander Shawn Hill found out first hand in Game 1, just how small the park can play.

Hill (2-3) allowed three home runs in six innings of work in an eventual 11-5 loss to the Braves, but two of the long balls likely wouldn’t have left any other park in the IL.  

Hill struggled to hide his frustrations after a short home run by Mark Hamilton gave the Braves an 8-2 lead in the fifth. He finished the afternoon with an ugly stat line, which read: six innings pitched, 10 hits, eight runs (all earned), one walk and three strikeouts.  

“He’s just happened to give up some lazy fly balls that have turned into home runs in this ballpark,” said Danks, who recorded three doubles and scored three runs on Monday. “I don’t think it’s intimidating for him or anything, but it’s definitely frustrating at times for the pitchers.” 

In Game 2, Tyler Saladino (who also homered in Game 1), Blake Tekotte and Davidson each went yard to help Charlotte take a 5-5 game into the tenth inning before Davidson’s heroics.

"I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and he hung a cutter, which got in on me a little bit, but luckily the fence is a little short (to left) and it got over," Davidson said. "I’m just trying to keep things simple, get a good pitch to hit, and just frickin' hit it." 

Matt Zaleski got the nod on the mound for Charlotte and tossed three innings, allowing four runs on six hits. Three Knights relievers then combined to hold the Braves to one run over the game’s next seven innings.

Ryan Kussmaul (2-3) recorded the win after tossing two scoreless, hitless, innings. He struck out three.

Charlotte – which entered the day with the highest total attendance in the IL – packed 16,946 fans into BB&T BallPark over the course of the day and went over 400,000 for the year (402,723).  

The double-header split also secured a .500 (15-15) month of June for the Knights, who appear to be on the rebound after an 8-22 May.

“The timing (of Davidson’s home run) was great,” said Knights manager Joel Skinner, who was coaching third after Ryan Newman earned an early exit for arguing a foul ball in the seventh. “I got to high-five him, or high-10 him actually as he rounded the bases.”