With one swing, Dusty Robinson took the buzz out of the opening-night crowd.
Robinson capped a six-run third inning with a crowd-silencing grand slam as Burlington beat Clinton 8-2 on Thursday night to open the Midwest League baseball season at Ashford University Field.
“You’ve got to give the lineup credit there,” Robinson said. “Everybody in the lineup started swinging, and we had guys on base. ... Everybody started clicking in that inning. It gave us momentum to go out there, especially on the road where it’s big to get those runs early.”
The big inning erased a 1-0 lead Clinton established in the previous inning, and the LumberKings couldn’t get much offense going against Bees pitchers Drew Granier, Nate Kilcrease and Ryan Doolittle.
“They had the big hit at the right time, and then their pitching shut us down, so you’ve got to give it to them in that aspect,” Clinton manager Eddie Menchaca said
Clinton starter Cameron Hobson had retired six of the first seven batters he faced and was given a 1-0 lead by his teammates in the bottom of the second inning. But the third inning was a different story for the left-hander who was drafted by Seattle in the 11th round last year and will turn 23 next Tuesday.
“I think he wanted to change it up for some reason,” Menchaca said of Hobson’s pitching in the third. “He was throwing his fastball — he’s got a little run; he’s got a little two-seamer going — and he was down-and-away and pounding it in and down. He kind of went away (from it) in the third inning, started to pick away a little bit. He went away from that and fell behind hitters, and they didn’t miss a fastball. Obviously, that grand slam, the count was 3-1, I think, or something like that.”
Chih Fang Pan opened the inning with Burlington’s first hit, a single to right field. Sean Jamieson walked, and Chad Oberacker sacrificed the runners to second and third. Royce Consigli and B.A. Vollmuth followed with singles, each scoring a run, then Nick Rickles walked to load the bases.
After Bobby Crocker struck out for the second out, Robinson delivered the crushing blow. A right-handed batter, Robinson launched a fly ball down the right-field line that hit off the roof of the groundskeeper’s shed.
“I was looking for a pitch to drive there and got the pitch — a fastball,” Robinson said. “I kind of put my head down and started running and when I peeked up again I kind of saw it keep carrying.”
It also might have deflated the LumberKings, especially since it came on opening night.
“I don’t think that hurt us as far as it being the first game,” Clinton designated hitter Jabari Blash said.
But, Menchaca wasn’t so sure.
“It shouldn’t, but the kids are young and they’re so excited and they want to do so well and win the first game that they put the pressure on themselves a little bit after that — ‘We’re down 6-1 now,’ and now they start pressing a little bit,” he said.
And it was a fairly even game after that.
“I think it was just that big third inning they had (with) six runs,” Menchaca said. “I thought we hit the ball OK. We hit some balls hard right at people. They just had that big inning, and I think after that we couldn’t get much going.”
Clinton scored first, taking a 1-0 lead in the second when Ramon Morla doubled with one out and stole third. After Jharmidy De Jesus walked, Steven Baron delivered a run-scoring single to left field.
“Morla set the tone right away (with the steal) because that’s the kind of baseball we want to play — aggressive and taking the bags and giving the hitter the opportunity to score (the run) from third,” Menchaca said.
The LumberKings had a chance to do more damage after a wild pitch by Granier put both runners in scoring position, but De Jesus was thrown out at home trying to score on Anthony Phillips’ ground ball to third, then Phillips was picked off first base to end the inning.
Clinton didn’t get another baserunner against Granier, then Kilcrease came in and threw four innings of four-hit ball. The LumberKings did manage a run against him when Jabari Blash led off the seventh with a triple to the wall in right-center and Morla brought him home with a sacrifice fly foulout to deep right field.
“My first couple of at-bats, I think I tried to do a little too much,” Blash said. “I settled down (there) and put the ball in play.”
Now, with the first game out of the way, the LumberKings will continue the three-game series at 6:30 p.m. with Ambioris Hidalgo on the mound against the Bees.
“Even though we didn’t have a lot of opportunities, the little ones that we did have, I thought we did OK,” Menchaca said. “It’s good to see that. It’s a long season; it’s Game 1. We learn from that and move on.”