WILMINGTON, Del. — Just a few days ago, the Salem Red Sox were on the hottest of streaks and just three outs from sweeping their way into the Carolina League’s championship series.
Now, after their third straight loss in Wilmington, they’ll have a long offseason to ponder what went wrong in a Northern Division series they once controlled.
The Red Sox, who piled up 19 runs on 47 hits in the first four games of the series, couldn’t muster enough timely offense and stranded 13 runners Sunday afternoon in the deciding Game 5 at Frawley Stadium. The result was a painful, 6-3 loss to the Blue Rocks, who captured the best-of-five series before a crowd of 1,357.
Salem’s three weekend losses in Delaware erased a seven-game winning streak and 12 wins in 13 games before Friday.
“We didn’t play our best baseball in the last three games when it counted most,” said Red Sox manager Corey Wimberly. “Small mistakes here and there, details, definitely affected the outcome in each one of those games.”
Instead of the Red Sox heading to the Mills Cup finals — after holding leads in the ninth inning of Game 3 and the eighth inning of Game 4 — it was the Blue Rocks who punched their ticket to the championship series of the 10-team league. Wilmington will face Fayetteville, a 3-2 series winner over Down East, for the Carolina League’s championship.
“I don’t think we ever got too high or too low throughout the series,” said Wimberly. “Emotionally, I thought we remained at an even keel throughout the series.”
Facing a 4-1 deficit to start the eighth inning, the Red Sox rallied with some help from the Blue Rocks’ bullpen. Wilmington reliever Josh Dye walked three of the four batters he faced. After the Blue Rocks changed pitchers, Salem’s Tyler Esplin and pinch hitter Jerry Downs each drove in a run to trim the Red Sox’s deficit to 4-3.
However, Garrett Benge flew out to center field with the bases loaded to end the threat, and Wilmington added a pair of insurance runs in its half of the inning.
The Red Sox loaded the bases again in the ninth inning, but Esplin popped up to shortstop to end the game.
“I think they made the necessary adjustments to keep our hitters off balance,” Wimberly said of the Blue Rocks. “We gave our best effort, though, all the way down to the last at-bat.”
Wilmington pitcher Rito Lugo, a lefty who carried a 4-4 record and 2.34 ERA as a spot starter in the regular season into his first postseason appearance, held Salem’s bats in check on Sunday. The Red Sox scored their only run off him in the sixth inning, courtesy of back-to-back doubles by Keith Curcio and Kole Cottam. However, Lugo escaped the ensuing jam through a pair of strikeouts with runners on first and second with one out.
The 23-year-old gave up five hits, while striking out 10, in six innings of work.
Salem starter Daniel Gonzalez was tagged with the loss after allowing three runs in 4 1/3 innings.
Wilmington’s Kyle Isbel broke a scoreless tie with a solo home run in the third inning. An inning later, Dennicher Carrasco followed with his own blast, a two-run moonshot that almost landed on Interstate 95 beyond the left field wall.
|Salem Red Sox|
|a- Jerry Downs||PH-DH||1||0||1||0||0||0||1||0||0||.500|
2B: Williams, G (2, Lugo); Curcio (3, Lugo); Cottam (3, Lugo).
TB: Acosta; Benge; Casas; Cottam 3; Curcio 3; Downs; Williams, G 2.
RBI: Cottam (2); Downs (2); Esplin (4).
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Acosta; Nishioka; Esplin 3; Fitzgerald; Benge 2.
Team RISP: 3-for-12.
Team LOB: 13.
Outfield assists: Acosta (Hill at 2nd base).
|Wilmington Blue Rocks|
|1- Ricky Aracena||PR-2B||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.286|
2B: Pratto (2, Gonzalez, D); Kasser (1, Scherff); Gigliotti (1, Scherff).
HR: Isbel (1, 3rd inning off Gonzalez, D, 0 on, 2 out); Carrasco (1, 4th inning off Gonzalez, D, 1 on, 1 out).
TB: Carrasco 5; Gigliotti 2; Hill 2; Isbel 4; Kasser 3; Pratto 2.
RBI: Carrasco 2 (2); Gigliotti 2 (2); Isbel (2); Kasser (1).
2-out RBI: Isbel.
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Pratto 3; Isbel.
Team RISP: 4-for-10.
Team LOB: 7.
E: Pratto (1, throw).
Outfield assists: Isbel (Casas at home).
|Salem Red Sox|
|Daniel Gonzalez (L, 0-1)||4.1||4||3||3||2||4||2||6.23|
|Wilmington Blue Rocks|
|Rito Lugo (W, 1-0)||6.0||5||1||1||2||10||0||1.50|
|Robert Garcia (H, 1)||1.0||0||0||0||0||1||0||3.00|
|Josh Dye (H, 1)||0.1||0||2||2||3||1||0||8.10|
|Andrew Beckwith (H, 1)||0.2||1||0||0||1||0||0||2.45|
|Collin Snider (S, 1)||1.0||3||0||0||0||0||0||4.50|
HBP: Benge (by Lugo); Hicklen (by Gonzalez, D).
Pitches-strikes: Gonzalez, D 74-43; Scherff 35-20; Gomez, R 13-8; Schwaab 29-16; Lugo 99-64; Garcia 19-13; Dye 18-6; Beckwith 18-7; Snider 15-10.
Groundouts-flyouts: Gonzalez, D 3-3; Scherff 1-1; Gomez, R 0-0; Schwaab 2-0; Lugo 7-0; Garcia 1-1; Dye 0-0; Beckwith 1-1; Snider 1-1.
Batters faced: Gonzalez, D 19; Scherff 8; Gomez, R 2; Schwaab 8; Lugo 26; Garcia 3; Dye 4; Beckwith 4; Snider 6.
Inherited runners-scored: Scherff 1-0; Gomez, R 1-0; Schwaab 2-0; Beckwith 3-2.
Umpires: HP: Mark Bass. 1B: Jake Bruner. 2B: Drew Saluga. 3B: Ben Rosen.
Weather: 80 degrees, Sunny.
Wind: 6 mph, Out To CF.
First pitch: 1:36 PM.
Venue: Frawley Stadium.