The Norfolk Tides continued their home winning streak on Thursday night at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish with Hurricane Earl lurking over the horizon. The National Weather Service had assured the Tides and Minor League Baseball that the rains and winds from Earl would not arrive until after 11 PM and their forecast was on the money. With just over 6000 fans in attendance and in beautiful weather conditions the Tides settled in to take on their International League Southern Division rivals, the Charlotte Knights in the first of a two game series to wrap up the Tides final home stand of 2010.
The Tides started left hander Chris George against Knights right hander Carlos Torres and the two starters both pitched gems. Each would only make one mistake both involving home runs. In the bottom of the 2nd inning Tides home run leader Michael Aubrey led off the inning and crushed Torres’ pitch over the right field wall bouncing it off the roof of the Straub Beer Party deck. This gave the Tides a 1-0 lead that would hold up until 2 outs in the top of the 8th when Knight’s center fielder Buck Coats returned the favor against George sending a solo home run into the Straub party deck to tie the game at one. George finished the 8th inning leaving the game giving up 1 run on 5 hits while striking out 7 and walking none. It was his best performance of the year and showed that if anyone is interested that the 31 year old veteran is still worth looking at if a team needs a left-handed pitcher for spot starts or long relief. His opponent on Thursday Carlos Torres left the game after 7 inning surrendering the just the 1 run on three hits while walking 2 and striking out 2 Tides batters.
It then became a battle of relievers and with each passing inning the tension built. Jonathan Adkins shut down the Tides in the 8th inning and in the 9th the Tides sent in Frank Mata who was sharp, pitching the 9th and the 10th allowing no runs hits or walks. The Knights countered with Randy Williams who pitched the 9th and 10th allowing just a walk. Tides closer Dennis Sarfate entered the game in the 11th and pitched it and the 12th allowing no runs but a hit and a walk and striking out 3 Knights. The Knights sent left hander Garrett Johnson into the game in the 11th and Johnson held the Tides in the 11th and 12th innings. In the 13th the Tides sent Jim Hoey into the game and Hoey sent the Knights down in order as a few scatted rain drops started falling and the winds began to pick up as Earl neared Hampton Roads.
The Knights sent Johnson back out in the 13th to face Miguel Abreu, Blake Davis and Paco Figueroa. Abreu led off the inning with a base hit and was sacrificed to second on a bunt by Davis. Johnson then intentionally walked right hander batter Paco Figueroa to get to left hand batter Jeff Salazar. Salazar then flied out on a short fly ball to center fielder Buck Coats for the second out. The tension now was high as the remaining fans cheered when Michael Aubrey came to the plate. I was standing next to Elliott the Usher and said to him “Aubrey wins it for us now, three run home run.” As Aubrey settled in the crowd quieted as Johnson pitched to Aubrey. Johnson got the first strike and delivered the second pitch which Aubrey crushed going over the right field wall, over the bullpen and probably into the Elizabeth River. The crowd which had been hushed erupted as Aubrey made contact and as the ball sailed deep into the night went wild as Abreu and Figueroa crossed the plate and the Tides mobbed Aubrey as he jumped onto the plate a celebration that lasted until the Tides walked off the field. The home run was Aubrey’s 21st of the campaign.
Jim Hoey (4-0 3.54 ERA) got the win in relief for the Tides and Garrett Johnson (0-1 6.35 ERA) took the loss for the Knights. The Knights had 1 run on 6 hits with 1 error leaving 6 runners on base. The Tides 4 runs, all driven in by Michael Aubrey on 8 hits with 1 error leaving 7 runners stranded. The win tied the Tides with the Knights for 3rd place in the division both well behind the Durham Bulls. While Chris George did not get a decision his performance against the Knights was superior and he and Michael Aubrey were the stars of this game.