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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No joy in Mudcatville

Posted by on Tue, May 19, 2009 at 2:24 PM

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I blame physics. Or meteorology. Or both. The Carolina Mudcats pounded the hell out of the ball Monday night, pummeling it down the first and third base lines, nailing line drives into fielders’ gloves that seemed to smoke from the friction, powering it deep into the warning track. But only one of the five hits sailed out of the park—Sean Henry’s homer in the bottom of the second—as the ball met some unseen force that felled it as if someone had shot it at skeet practice.

The result of the invisible hand of physics: A 4-1 loss to the Jacksonville Suns in the second game of a doubleheader that lasted past 11 p.m. (Here's the box score.)

[Pictured: Pitcher Federico Baez, who was promoted to Triple-A Louisville.]

The folks in the press box debated whether it was the wind blowing into the park. Nope, the breeze was too gentle. I’ve sneezed with greater force. The dry, 52-degree air: Is it heavier or lighter than humid air? And if it’s heavier, then the weather’s the culprit and everyone knows there’s not a thing anyone can do about the weather except talk about it. A Google search ensued. One of the media folks who had experience as a chemical engineer noted that nitrogen in dry air is heavier than water vapor in humid air. Voila! Dry air is denser; it robbed the ball of some of its lift. It was the weather.

Or just as likely, it was the Mudcats’ bullpen.

Right-hander Justin Mallett entered the game at an unimpressive 0-2, but stymied the Suns in five impressive innings. He threw just 72 pitches, striking out the side in the top of the second for a total of six strikeouts and two walks and three hits.

Reliever Ruben Medina held his own in the sixth, but allowed the tying run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh—ostensibly the last inning of the game. (Doubleheaders are shortened.) The beer taps had been turned off, a sure way to end a party. The stands, already sparsely populated because of the cold and the fact the game was held on a weeknight when the Hurricanes were on TV, had begun to empty out. I walked the concourses to see who was left. Behind the plate, men with radar guns aimed at the pitcher. (Like a thirsty woman in the desert who sees a mirage, I envisioned the guns were hair dryers that would thaw out my bones.) I counted the fans. Section 206, three; Section 207, 14; Section 213, Row F, the sound of one fan clapping.

Knotted at one run a piece, what was supposed to be a shortened game went into extra, extra innings. Camillo Vazquez took the mound in the top of the 10th, which should have given the lingering Mudcats’ fans pause. His control issues were foreshadowed April 22 against Huntsivlle, when he pitched 10 consecutive balls and faced just three batters—including one he nearly beaned—before being yanked. I know, I know, it’s been a long day. The bullpen is running low. But when the game’s on the line, who do you turn to? Vazquez?

He walked four, threw a wild pitch and allowed three earned runs in one inning.

The Mudcats had no answers in the bottom of the 10th. Game over.

Tonight’s meterological forecast: another dry, chilly night with the wind blowing into the park. Jordan Smith (2-0, 2.96 ERA) is on the mound for the Mudcats, facing Jacksonville’s Kyle Winters (0-0, 4.09 ERA).

Transaction note: Mudcats’ right-hander Federico Baez has been promoted to Triple-A Louisville, with the statuesque Logan Ondrusek joining the Mudcats from High-A Sarasota. Baez, a reliever, has been the winningest pitcher on the Mudcats' staff, compiling a record of 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA over 13 games.

Ondrusek, 24, becomes the tallest Mudcats player at 6’8.” Ondrusek dominated the Florida League this season, posting a 2-0 record with a 0.96 ERA over 13 bullpen appearances.

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