BRIDGEPORT, CT- The Ducks responded well after first-place Southern Maryland posted a three-game sweep at home to hurl the club 5 ½ games behind in the division and below the .500 mark last week.
Instead of falling out of the Liberty Division hunt, manager Gary Carter saw his team take care of business against the Atlantic League’s two worst clubs, sweeping York and taking the first two from Bridgeport.
Despite a plethora of chances, the Ducks failed to cap a second consecutive sweep. Carter saw his team make four outs on the base paths and leave three runners on base in the final two at-bats before Luis Lopez tagged Robert Paulk’s first pitch deep over the leftfield wall for a 10th inning solo home run, lifting the Bluefish to a 3-2 win in a rare morning start in front of 2,522 at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard Wednesday.
Instead of moving 1 ½ behind Southern Maryland, the Ducks were held scoreless for nine innings after a two-run first as the three-four-five hitters went a combined 3-14. Bridgeport staff ace Esteban Yan scattered eight hits in eight innings after entering the contest with the league’s seventh-lowest ERA at 3.89.
Estee Harris accounted for both Ducks runs, recording a RBI and a run scored while Ray Navarrete was the only visitor to log a multi-hit game in a 2-4, one-run effort. With a five-game winning streak over, the Ducks dropped to 20-17.
The Ducks put runners on first and third in the top of the 10th thanks to shortstop Rayner Bautista booting Harris’ ground ball that would have ended the inning. Instead, the ball glanced off his glove before rolling into shallow center as Navarrete advanced to third.
Andy Weimer prevented the go-ahead run from crossing the plate, setting up Lopez’s third home run of the season in the bottom of the inning as the Bluefish evened the season series at 3-3.
Ducks starter B.J. Lamura lived dangerously through six innings, walking five and allowing five hits in throwing 109 pitches. But the righty kept the Bluefish to just two runs, stranding seven runners to pick up the quality start.
While Lamura labored through his effort, Yan capitalized on the free-swinging Ducks, needing just 85 pitches to breeze through his eight innings. Yan, a former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, walked just one batter and registered a single strikeout.
“I’m glad they gave me a chance to win and prove what I can do,” Yan, an 11-year major league veteran, said. “I’d like to get the win, but I’m happy the team won. I’m proud of what I’m doing and will continue to throw every outing and every opportunity.”
Despite the starters’ style dichotomy, both pitchers ended up with no-decisions. Yan allowed just one runner to make it into scoring position after the Ducks scored twice in the first. Bridgeport manager Tommy John elected to take out Yan for the ninth, bringing in Weimer.
Ron Davenport lined a leadoff double and a walk put two runners on base before Johnny Hernandez placed a perfect sac bunt attempt down the third base line, moving both men into scoring position in the ninth. Dennis Donovan then hit a weak grounder to third and Davenport broke on contact and caught caught in a rundown between third and home.
Bridgeport got the tag out and then completed the double play when Donovan tried to take second base and was thrown out by 10 feet, killing a rally with the fourth out the Ducks made on the base paths.
Bluefish manager Tommy John is friends with Carter from their playing days. After a rough start, the Bluefish won four of the last six even after dropping the first two to the Ducks. Bridgeport is still looking to find consistency with a 15-23 record.
“If you don’t play very well like we’ve had the last couple of days, it’s not a lot of fun to manage anything,” John said. “But it’s fun. Gary’s been a friend of mine for a long time. We played against each other when he was with the Mets and Expos.”
Ken Ray, Randy Leek and Brad Halsey were entrusted to anchor the Ducks top three rotation spots before Opening Day. Ray is now in the Indians organization, Leek is inactive with an oblique strain and Halsey is looking to regain the form that once made him a heralded Yankee prospect.
But the Ducks qualified for the playoffs the past five seasons based on depth and are looking to employ a similar strategy with the new campaign barely a month old. Enter Lamura and Jake Dittler, who are two right-handers looking to become established Atlantic League starters.
Harris and Victor Rodriguez jumped on Yan early, lining back-to-back RBI singles before taking second on wild throws to the plate in the opening inning despite the 10:30 a.m. start time. Rodriguez prematurely ended the rally, getting thrown out trying to take third.
Bridgeport battled back, supporting its top starter by manufacturing a run off Lamura. Adam Greenberg worked a a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error before coming home on Jay Caligiuri’s infield single to make it 2-1 after the first inning.
Lamura struggled with command but was able to minimize the damage. In the third, the Bluefish put runners runners on the corners with none out before Lamura induced a pop out before Ryan Radmanovich hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to tie the score at 2. That would be it as the Ronkonkoma escaped the inning without Bridgeport taking the lead.
The Ducks will head to Somerset for a three-game series against the reigning league champions. The Patriots entered Wednesday evening with a Freedom Division-best 24-17 record.