By Brian Lester
No loss is ever easy to digest.
But those one-run losses are bitter pills to swallow.
Like Sunday’s 6-5 setback to the Jackson Generals at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.
The Blue Wahoos battled for nine innings, refusing to give up even when they squandered a two-run lead, only to come out on the wrong end of the scoreboard for the second consecutive game.
It was the sixth time this month Pensacola has lost a game by two or less, including the fifth by just a run.
“We’ve had a lot of close games lately,” first baseman Seth Mejias-Brean said. “It sucks when you come out on the losing end. But we have to build on it like we have been.”
The Blue Wahoos (19-25) had hope entering the bottom of the ninth. They trailed the Generals (19-23) by a run and the crowd of 4,052 had every reason to believe its team was capable of a comeback.
But Marquez Smith grounded out, and after Jesse Winker battled to draw a walk, fouling off several pitches along the way, Mejias-Brean flew out and Kyle Skipworth grounded out as the game drew to a painful close.
Even in defeat, manager Pat Kelly praised his team’s gutsy effort.
“The thing I like about this team is the way we keep coming back,” Kelly said. “That is something you didn’t see in the first month.”
The Blue Wahoos didn’t lose this Southern League game because of a lack of effort. Nor did they lose it because they lacked opportunities.
Take the fourth inning for instance. Ahead 4-2, Pensacola loaded the bases and had a chance to chance to blow the game open.
No one was able to come through with a clutch hit, however, and Mejias-Brean ended the threat when he flew out. Pensacola left the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th Saturday in an 8-6 loss and is 1-for-24 in those situations.
“I’m not a real big stat guy,” Kelly said. “If you hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded, what is your batting average? If you walk with the bases loaded, what is your batting average? It’s a very over-rated stat.”
Jackson scored three times in the fifth to take a 5-4 lead, with Dan Paolini fueling the rally with a two-run triple to the wall in left. The ball bounced just past Kyle Waldrop as the Generals surged in front.
That rally ended the day for starter Daniel Wright, who was gunning for his third consecutive win but had to settle for a no-decision after he went 5 2/3 innings and gave up five runs on eight hits.
Jacob Johnson ended up taking the loss and fell to 2-1 on the season.
Skipworth tied the score at 5-5 in the seventh with a sacrifice fly but the Generals took the lead back in the eighth with a hard run-scoring hit up the middle by Gabby Guerrero.
Stellar defense gave the Blue Wahoos a chance in the bottom half of the ninth. Zach Vincej made a diving catch to deny a hit and Ryan Wright made a tough grab at second to throw out a runner at first.
Earlier in the game, Mejias-Brean turned an impressive double play where he came up with the ball off a bad hop and threw to first after stepping on third.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence (on defense) and that helps the pitchers,” Kelly said. “They know if someone hits a ground ball, we have a chance for a double play. It takes the pressure off the pitching staff.”
The offense continues to play with confidence as well. The Blue Wahoos finished with eight hits and scored at least five runs for the fourth time in the last seven outings.
“A lot of guys are getting hot and getting more comfortable with their swings. That helps,” Mejias-Brean said.
Pensacola will close out its 10-game homestand Monday with a 6:35 p.m. game against the Generals. The Blue Wahoos are seeking their third series win of the month.
“It’s a huge game,” Mejias-Brean said. “(Saturday) we almost had it. Today we almost had it. Tomorrow is a new day. We just have to go out there and play.”