The hottest team in the Carolina League has toted its significant momentum into the postseason.
The Salem Red Sox ambushed former University of Virginia ace Daniel Lynch for four runs in the opening inning and breezed to an 8-3 victory over the Wilmington Blue Rocks on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Division Series, delighting an announced crowd of 1,831 at Haley Toyota Field.
Salem set franchise postseason records for hits (17) and extra-base hits (nine) in a game, winning for the 12th time in its past 13 outings. Six Sox players recorded multiple hits as the hosts made an emphatic statement in the opener of a best-of-five series against the Northern Division’s first half champions.
“We’ve been swinging it well,” said third baseman Garrett Benge, who went 3 for 5 with a home run and two doubles. “This park is not hitter-friendly, but we’ve been swinging the bats up and down the order pretty well these past couple weeks — really the whole second half. It’s just about being able to stick with it.”
Devlin Granberg and Keith Curcio also homered for the Sox, who ranked last in the league in roundtrippers during the regular season. Salem also collected five doubles, tying the club’s single-game playoff record established in 1987.
Three batters into the bottom of the first inning, the Sox led 3-0. Benge led off with a ringing double, which was followed by a Ryan Fitzgerald single. Granberg then drilled a three-run homer over the wall in right-center.
The next two batters also reached with extra-base hits to plate another run. It was a stunning salvo against Lynch, who was picked by the Royals 34th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft after a three-year career in Charlottesville. The 6-foot-6 southpaw was lighting up the radar gun with mid-90s heat.
“He makes it really tough on left-handed hitters,” said Benge, one of five lefty swingers in the Sox starting lineup. “He’s a good pitcher. The first time I faced him, I think I K’ed three times against him.
“I have information on him and stuff like that, and I basically just try to go off of what I have and just make a good educated guess. He throws 95 to 98 [mph], and from the left side, that’s tough. You’ve just got to hit the heater when you get it. You can’t miss your pitch.”
The Sox rarely did in this one, chasing Lynch with a dozen hits in the first four innings to build a 6-0 lead.
Sox starter Enmanuel De Jesus cruised through the first four innings but gave up two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth. Dylan Thompson came in to get the final out of that frame, then Yoan Aybar and Joan Martinez combined for three hitless innings of relief to close it out.
“Our pitching has been lights-out,” Benge said. “There haven’t been many times at all that they’ve put us in a bad spot. I can’t remember the last time, if ever.”
The Sox will look to take a 2-0 series lead in Game 2 at 6:35 p.m. Thursday when they send righty Thad Ward (3-3, 2.33) to the mound against Wilmington right-hander Jonathan Bowlan (5-3, 2.95).
The No. 8 prospect in the Red Sox system according to MLB.com, Ward had a dominant regular season between Greenville and Salem. He posted a 2.14 ERA over 25 starts overall, fanning 157 batters in 126 1/3 innings.
“I’m very excited,” Ward said. “This will actually be a first experience for me in a professional postseason, so I’ll finally get to experience what that’s going to be like. The goal is just to go out there and treat it as another start. It’s just another opportunity to showcase what I can do and really just rely on the guys behind me on defense to help get me through it.”