Blue Wahoos Hang on to 3-2 Victory
Already it had been memorable night Friday at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
A buzz created by Albert J. Lane, a 96-year-old World War II, Army veteran and fighter pilot from Marianna, who fulfilled his wish for a final flight as passenger in a vintage 1943 military aircraft, which flew over Blue Wahoos Stadium after the National Anthem.
And then came the game with Blue Wahoos pitcher Jhoan Duran applying a bright bow on this keepsake moment.
Duran, 21, the latest in array of this team's arm talent, carried a no-hitter until two out in the seventh inning, then watched three relievers hang on in the ninth for a 3-2 win against the Jackson Generals, all in front of a sellout crowd (5,038).
"That was unbelievable. We had something special there," said Blue Wahoos manager Ramon Borrego.
The righthander Duran, a Dominican Republic native, worked eight innings, finishing with two hits allowed, one walk, 11 strikeouts. Of the 68 pitches he threw, an astounding 58 were strikes. Many of his pitches neared or equaled 100 miles-per-hour.
"That was a really impressive night," Borrego said. "I think it's the best outing we've had so far among all our pitchers. Even with former Blue Wahoos star (Brusdar) Graterol , (Jorge) Alcala and those guys. This one was amazing. It was amazing the way he attacked the hitters. And how he used his slider for strikeouts."
But it got real hairy at the end.
With two out, none on in the ninth inning, Blue Wahoos reliever Gabriel Moya, a former Minnesota Twins reliever, felt a twinge after a pitch. He was examined and removed from the game.
It put Andrew Vasquez into the game with rushed warmup. Vasquez never got an out. He issued a walk, allowed a single, then two-run double by Ryan Grotjohn, ending the shutout bid.
Jonathan Cheshire replaced Vasquez and immediately issued an intentional walk. He then hit a batter to load the bases. But he got Jeffrey Baez to hit a hard fly ball to center that Jimmy Kerrigan tracked down to end the game.
It brought dugout hugs for Borrego, but he knew he wasn't the only one in the stadium with nervous tension.
"No, not just me, probably everybody," he said, smiling. "Everybody on staff, the players, everybody in the stands.
"When you have a beautiful game into the ninth and one pitch can turn it to the other side, that's tough. You had the tying run on third base."
The win further tightened the second-half division race. Combined with the division leader Biloxi and Jacksonville both losing Friday night, the Blue Wahoos are now just two games back, tied with the Jumbo Shrimp, in the Southern League South Division.
The Blue Wahoos have already secured being in the playoffs as the wild card team, provided Biloxi hangs on to the division lead. The Shuckers won the first half division race which ended in mid-June.
By rule, if a team wins both halves, the second playoff spot goes to the team with the next best overall record, which is the Blue Wahoos.
Friday's win began a five-game homestand against the Generals, who trail first-half division winner Montgomery in the second half as well.
In the second inning, the Blue Wahoos scored their first round when Ryan Jeffers and Travis Blankenhorn hit consecutive doubles.
The score stayed 1-0 until the seventh when LaMonte Wade, who is with the Blue Wahoos on an injury rehab, doubled into the centerfield gap to score Joe Cronin. Royce Lewis drove in Wade with his third double in the game.
Lewis, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 MLB draft, finished his night going 3-for-4 with all three of his hits being doubles.
"I like it when we get two-out hits with runners in scoring position," Borrego said. "(Friday) we did that with Royce."
Duran's performance continued an impressive pitching trend. It was the fourth time this month the Blue Wahoos took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. All four times, it's happened at home. During the past homestand, they had a combined no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning.
The past homestand included having pitchers Brusdar Graterol and Jorge Alcala, both of whom were elevated to Triple-A Rochester Red Wings along with assistant pitching coach Cibney Bello, who has been a mentor to both pitchers.
Justin Willard is now the team's lone pitching coach.
"Williard is doing a great job with game preparation and before, too, with Cibney," Borrego said. "They give the resources and information for these pitchers to executive well. I have to give credit to my coaching staff."
Duran had a perfect game through five innings on Aug. 2 at Blue Wahoos Stadium against Birmingham.
"I think he was more focused (Friday)," Bello said. "He really attacked the strike zone well and the big thing was his slider was really sharp. He used it down and away. He used it for strikes.
"He kept hitters off balance. When he got ahead in the those (Generals' batters) didn't know fastball or slider was coming. I saw a guy on the mound with a bulldog mentality and he knew what to do. I think for me that was the key.
The first 2,000 fans Friday received a collectable of Blue Wahoos Stadium, provided by game sponsor Covenant Care, which provided the flyover trip by Mr. Lane.
The Milton High School color guard presented the colors and the MHS choir performed the National Anthem.
The game was broadcast live on Cox Sports Television, which reaches nearly 5.5 million homes, and was the final one for the Blue Wahoos this season on CST.
Images from this story
Pensacola Blue Wahoos pitcher Jhoan Duran
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Southern League Stories from August 24, 2019
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- Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp: Game Notes, August 24 vs. Mobile - Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
- Ninth-Inning Rally Falls Short for Generals, 3-2 - Jackson Generals
- Blue Wahoos Hang on to 3-2 Victory - Pensacola Blue Wahoos
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