Josh Bell did something that has seldom happened at Harbor Park. It was not the walk off home run but it was the feat of having a home run in three consecutive games in a ballpark that is a pitcher’s paradise and a power hitter’s nightmare. Harbor Park opened in 1993 when the Norfolk Tides were the AAA affiliate of the New York Mets. The dimensions of the park are very similar to the Mets’ old home Shea Stadium. The left field line 330 feet, right field 318, and dead center 410 feet. In fact not very many of today’s Major League parks have as deep dimensions as the home of the Norfolk Tides. Not only is it a big yard but the prevailing winds during the season also mitigate against a lot of home runs as does the air which often is heavy with humidity. The winds usually come off the East Fork of the Elizabeth River and blow in knocking down balls hit to right or right center. Typically the leading Tides home run leader since the team has moved to Harbor Park in 1993 hits an average 16 home runs a season and of course many of those come in other parks. By contrast the Durham Bulls have averaged over 25 home runs a season since coming into the International League in 1997 the same is true of the Pawtucket Red Sox who have been in the International League since 1993 and the Toledo Mud Hens during the same period average 26. The Buffalo Bisons average 16 per season for their leading home run hitter over the same time period but face some of the worst weather in the league. The truth is that Harbor Park for its beauty as a ballpark is a pitcher’s paradise and hitter’s nightmare all of which sets the stage for the story of Friday evening’s game between the Tides and the Mud Hens.
With warm and windy conditions in front of a crowd of 5943 the Tides and the Toledo Mud Hens met for the second game of a four game series. This game was dominated by the pitchers and it was a long night for both teams because of how well the pitchers worked. Prior to this game only two teams in the International League had not played an extra inning game and both were on the field Friday. I guess it was destiny that the game would go extra innings how could it not? In 12 innings the two teams pitchers allowed a combined 5 runs only 4 of which were earned runs.
After a scoreless first inning the Mud Hens took a one nothing lead in the top of the second when Max Leon singled to score Jeff Frazier. They extended it to 2-0 in the top of the third when Jeff Frazier singled to drive in Brent Dlugach but after that would manage just three more hits as Troy Patton, Ross Wolf, Frank Mata, Alberto Castillo and Jim Miller shut down a potent Toledo line up allowing no extra base hits.
The Tides offensive production also lagged as compared to the previous two outings where they scored a dozen runs per game. Friday however the Tides hitters were contained by the Toledo pitchers who scattered 9 hits in the 12 innings. The Tides got on the board in bottom of the 3rd inning when Josh Bell singled to drive in Robert Andino. The score would remain 2-1 until the bottom of the 6th inning. Michael Aubrey singled to lead off the inning and then Brandon Snyder stuck out swinging. The Mud Hens then took out starter Enrique Gonzalez bringing in Daniel Schlereth in relief. With Blake Davis at the plate Mud Hens catcher Angel Flores allowed a passed ball which allowed Aubrey to take second Troy Patton the Tides starter allowed two walks which placed runners on second and third. Ross Wolf came on in relief and on his first pitch got Brent Dlugach to pop out to second. The Tides would have a runner on second in both the 8th and 10th innings bit were unable to bring the runner home. In the 11th the Tides threatened again. Blake Davis singled and advanced to second on a very well executed sacrifice bunt by Adam Donachie. Robert Andino hit an infield single which did not advance Davis. Joey Gathright grounded out to advance Davis to third and Andino to second. Corey Patterson the grounded out sharply and the 11th inning ended with the teams still tied at two.
Jim Miller came on in the 12th inning in relief of Alberto Castillo who in his first appearance at Norfolk since he was optioned back to the team by the Orioles when Koji Uehara completed his rehab work. Miller put the Mud Hens down in order striking out Diek Scram, getting Angel Flores to pop out in foul territory to Adam Donachie and retiring Will Rhymes on a line drive to left fielder Joey Gathright.
In the bottom of the 12th the Mud Hens sent in Jay Sborz to pitch. The first batter that Sborz faced was Josh Bell who had homered in his last two games at Harbor Park. Bell slammed the ball to deep center and it kept going out of the park. As Bell crossed the plate he was mobbed by his teammates.
Jim Miller got the win and Sborz the loss. The Mud Hens had 2 runs on 9 hits with no errors with 8 men left on base. The Tides 3 runs on 9 hits and no errors with 13 left on base.
The teams met again Saturday night but that article will be posted sometime later Sunday.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mothers out there!