Monday night was a perfect night for some baseball. At the time of the first pitch in Lakewood, the temperature was sitting around 77 degrees, with a bright blue sky. With a return home to New Jersey, the Lakewood BlueClaws would look to break a four-game losing streak.
The first half of the South Atlantic League ended on a high note for Lakewood. They would close out the opening portion of the season on a six-game win streak. But in the opening series of the second half, the Claws would drop a four-game series in Hagerstown.
A return home on Monday would pit them against a Greensboro Grasshoppers team that Lakewood has had success against so far this season. Overall, they had won seven of the first team games against the Grasshoppers, including a three-game sweep the last time the two squared off in New Jersey just over a month ago.
The pitching matchup would see 21-year-old lefty Ranger Suarez take the hill for the home team, while righty LJ Brewster would toe the rubber for the minor league affiliate of the Miami Marlins. Suarez did not waste time getting the Claws on the right track, as he struck out the side in the top of the first inning.
The bottom of the first would then see some controversy. With shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa on first, cleanup hitter and first baseman Darick Hall would launch a ball to left center field. After initially being ruled a two-run home run, the umpires would meet and reverse the call to a double. While Gamboa would still score on a wild pitch in the inning, the Claws did see their second run pulled off the board.
The way Suarez was dealing in the early going, fans were in the stands thinking that run may not even matter. Through the first three innings, Greensboro sent nine men to the plate, and Suarez set them all down. He would conclude the third inning with six strikeouts to his name.
While the BlueClaws offense would not spark anything in innings following first, Suarez continued to deal. At the midway point of the game, the Grasshoppers had not had a man on base. It was 15 up and 15 down as the Claws went to bat in the bottom of the fifth.
In that bottom of the fifth, Claws third baseman Luke Williams would get an infield single, marking the team’s first hit since Hall’s double in the first inning that led to the game’s only run to this point. Williams would advance to second on a passed ball with second baseman Daniel Brito at the plate.
Brito would proceed to walk, followed by a walk to Gamboa. This brought center fielder Mickey Moniak up to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Unfortunately for the Philadelphia Phillies minor league affiliates, Moniak would ground out. The game would head to the sixth inning still 1-0 Lakewood.
After Suarez mowed the Hoppers down one-two-three again in the top of sixth, Greensboro would make a pitching change leading into the bottom half of the inning. Righty Nick Neumann would come on in relief for Brewster. Hall would greet him with a monster home run to right to lead things off. Henri Lartigue and Edgar Cabral would follow that with hits of their own. A bunt single by David Martinelli would load the bases, with no one out.
At this point, Neumann would be lifted with an injury, and Kyle Keller would enter. Keller would get Williams to hit into a 4-6-3 double play, trading one run for the two outs. That would be the extent of the damage, as the Claws would take a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning.
The seventh inning would see a moment where fans held their breath, as the perfect game could have been gone with one bad bounce. Greensboro second baseman would send the ball rolling down the first base line, where the ball hit the bag. It would pop into the air, landing in the glove of Hall. Hall would then flip the ball to Suarez just in time for the out. As fans let out a sigh of relief, Suarez would get through the inning, still perfect.
The Claws bats would give Suarez some extra breathing room in the bottom of the seventh as well. The team would put together a string of base runners to the tune of 3 more runs. Headed to the eighth inning, Lakewood held a 6-0 lead.
After recording the first two outs in the eighth, Suarez would allow a clean base hit to center to catcher Jarrett Rindfleisch. In what was an extremely strong performance, Suarez would go seven and two-thirds, allowing one hit, no walks and recorded nine strikeouts on 98 pitches. He was replaced by Trevor Bettencourt.
That would be the end of the excitement, as the remainder of the game went by without incident. Behind the dominant performance of their starter, plus contributions from almost everyone on offense, the Claws take down the Hoppers to open their three-game series.
Tomorrow night’s game will see lefty Nick Fanti take the mound for Lakewood. He will be opposed by righty Michael King of the Grasshoppers.