There are many ways for a baseball game to begin, but the way in which Saturday’s 5-2 Charlotte Knights loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox got underway might be the most exciting.
On a 3-2 pitch, Knights leadoff-man Jared Mitchell lined a fastball sharply to centerfield.
As Mookie Betts raced over to cut the ball off on one bounce, his footing failed on the slick BB&T BallPark outfield grass.
Betts made a last-second lunge at the ball, but came up empty and watched helplessly as the liner went skidding all the way to the wall – 400 feet from home plate.
It was at that moment that Mitchell, who was a wide receiver on the football team at Louisiana State University, as well as an outfielder on the baseball team, turned on the jets.
“I literally didn’t know the ball got by him,” said Mitchell, who has an extra-base hit in four consecutive games. “I was turning first, thinking about trying to stretch it into a double, and then I saw that the ball had gotten by him. I initially thought he dove and caught it, so that kind of surprised me."
As Mitchell rounded second, you could hear the crowd of 9,964 pick up in anticipation as it saw him staring down third-base coach Ryan Newman, who never once stopped waving him home.
Mitchell would slide in just before the tag from PawSox catcher Blake Swihart to complete his second inside-the-park home run this season. He also hit one while playing for Class AA Birmingham.
Following the 340-foot trip around the bases, Knights’ second baseman Carlos Sanchez could be seen in the dugout fanning Mitchell with a towel.
“It was funny,” Mitchell said. “(Sanchez) was just having fun. It was a good way to start the game and it kind of got our team excited.”
While Saturday’s game started off with a bang, it ultimately wound up being one of the better starting-pitching duels of the season, with Chris Beck holding the PawSox scoreless through six innings and Matt Barnes limiting Charlotte to two runs over the same span.
The Knights pushed across a second run in the fifth inning thanks to a Matt Tuiasosopo leadoff double. A wild pitch by Barnes allowed Tuiasosopo to move to third, and an RBI-groundout by Sanchez brought him home.
However, Pawtucket, as it did in Game 1 of the series, would rally to tie the score in the eighth, with two runs off Parker Frazier, and then go ahead in the ninth on a two-run home run from Bryce Brentz off of Ryan Kussmaul (2-5).
Brian Villarreal (1-0) picked up the win for the PawSox, who were aided by three Charlotte errors on the night.
“I think we played well early on,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t finish the game. We didn’t play a complete game, but I think we played well, up until probably the last three innings.”
Charlotte will attempt to avoid the sweep in its four-gamer series with the PawSox on Sunday. Shawn Hill faces Pawtucket left-hander Henry Owens, who is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 17 prospect in the game.
Notes: Avisail Garcia, with the Knights on a Major League rehab assignment, finished the night 0-for-4 with a strikeout. ... Matt Lindstrom, also with the Knights on a rehab assignment, tossed a scoreless seventh inning, working around a one-out Mookie Betts double. ... Prior to the game, the White Sox recalled Knights' outfielder Jordan Danks. ... Charlotte's current roster now sits at 24.