THUNDER BAY – Just how bad are things going for the Thunder Bay Border Cats?
Just look at what happened to them in the bottom of the 14th inning on Tuesday night.
Tied 4-4 with the visiting first-place Duluth Huskies (10-5), the Cats had runners on second and third with no outs and a chance to walk off their opponent and snap a four-game losing streak.
But a base-running miscue by Brandon Trammel led to the Huskies pulling off the improbable extra-innings triple play to end the threat.
They took full advantage of their second life in the top of the 15th, Trevin Esquara tripling home a pair of runs with two outs to deliver a 6-4 triumph in front of the few stragglers who remained of the 783 who took in what proved to be an entertaining game at Port Arthur Stadium.
“It was a little blunder on the base paths,” said Esquerra, who recorded the first out of the play at first, firing the ball to third to pick off Thunder Bay’s Evan Russell, who was forced off the bag when Trammell misread the play and ran to third on Nick Conti’s grounder.
“I’ve never been part of a triple play before and we took advantage of it for sure,” said the San Diego native.
It’s not how it was supposed to unfold, said Border Cats shortstop Garrett Saunders, who broke out with a 3-for-6 performance, driving in one run and scoring another for Thunder Bay, a team that jumped out in front of Duluth’s one-handed starter Parker Hanson 4-1 through three innings.
“I don’t think there was anyone in the park that thought with runners on second and third and no outs in the 14th that thought we were going to lose that game,” Saunders said.
“It’s disappointing and to come out and lose in the 15th, it sucks, but it’s baseball. Sometimes those things happen. We’ve just got to bounce back tomorrow.”
Thunder Bay (4-11) hit Hanson hard over the first three innings, collecting seven hits and four runs, including a pair in the second, one coming home on a Nick Conti single, the other on a Saunders sacrifice fly. Like former major leaguer Jim Abbott, Hanson cradles his glove on his left arm while pitching, then quickly switches it to his right to field the ball.
Border Cats pitcher Omar Maldonado, making just his third start of the season, was remarkably better than his previous two, when he didn`t escape the first inning.
Maldonado no-hit the Huskies through three, but those hopes were dashed when Hunter Biggie doubled to deep centre to start the fourth. The Cats right-hander has struggled with control all season long and it cost him against Duluth.
He walked two more batters before getting the hook from manager Mitch Felller, leaving with the bases loaded in favour of reliever John Sakowski.
Bigge scored on a wild pitch and then with two out, catcher Sam Hawley singled home a pair to even the score 4-4.
Duluth had a great chance to take the lead on closer Andrew Gross in the 11th, but ran themselves out of the inning.
Julian Escobedo was gunned down by Trammell, the son of former major leaguer Bubba Trammell, trying to score from second on a Kevin Jacobsen single and the inning came to a close when Hawley was caught stealing second.
The Border Cats had a runner on third with two outs in the 12th, but Ben McConnell struck out to end the threat.
Reliever Tim Holdgrafer, who came on in the 12th, earned the win, allowing one hit and three walks. Max Cristoff pitched the final four for Thunder Bay and took the loss.
The two teams meet again on Wednesday in Duluth. The Cats return home on Saturday to face Rochester.