Monday, September 1, 2014

Braves secure regular season finale over Knights 9-2

The Charlotte Knights opened their new home – BB&T BallPark – on Friday, April 11 and ushered in the first of 31 sellout crowds.

On Monday, the Knights – who did not qualify for post season play – wrapped up their final game at the Uptown stadium this season, a 9-2 loss to the Gwinnett Braves, in front of 9,540.

In total, 687,715 fans (the most in the minors) passed through the gates over that span – more than twice the amount (254,834) that visited Knights stadium in Fort Mill, SC, in 2013.

Zach Stewart took the mound for the Braves and held the Knights to two runs over six innings of work in the kind of coincidence that you seemingly only find in the game of baseball.

It was Stewart, who – a year ago Tuesday – got the start for Charlotte in the final game at Knights Stadium against the Braves.

His counterpart, Andre Rienzo, allowed two runs over six innings as well, before the game became a battle of the bullpens, which the Braves won thanks in large part to Sean Kazmar and Joe Leonard.

Kazmar belted two home runs – including the go-ahead shot in the eighth inning off Charlotte’s Daniel McCutchen, while Leonard finished the day 4-for-4 with a three-run home run of his own.  

“Our record wasn’t what we’d have liked it to be, but I think just coming up here to Uptown, the fans were a big part of this year,” said Knights manager Joel Skinner, whose squad finished the season in fourth place in the International League’s South Division with a record of 63-81.

“The facility and the atmosphere that they created here was tremendous. We wanted to be better than we were, but from our standpoint, a lot of good things happened with the players.”

In total, 15 Knights received promotions to Chicago (as of 9/01) with Carlos Sanchez, Jordan Danks and Andy Wilkins each posting career years.

Wilkins became the first Knight to hit 30 home runs in a single season since Brad Eldred hit 35 in 2008. Carlos Sanchez spent much of the season near the top of the IL in hits, and Danks – who is already on his way back to join the White Sox – broke the Knights’ all-time hits mark.

“Nobody wants to be setting minor league records, they’d rather be in the major leagues and I would,” said Danks, whose 1-for-3 performance on Monday gave him 449 career hits with the Knights. “But, I’ve been here for the last five years off an on, and I’m glad to set some records along the way and proud to say I've been a Knight. 

“I’m going to try to finish the season strong with (Chicago) and then come back next year and be ready to go. I love this stadium, but I hope I never see it again.”

Josh Phegley, who turned in another All-Star season and will likely join Danks in Chicago, summed up the season well.

“I feel like we got a little piece of the big leagues here with the stadium and city in general,” Phegley said. “It was a fun year.”

Notes: Concord, NC native Dan Wagner picked up his first career Class AAA hit with a two-out single to left field in the seventh inning.