By Brian Lester
Phillip Ervin momentarily gave the Pensacola Blue Wahoos a glimmer of hope Sunday afternoon.
Riding the confidence of his first two Double-A hits on Saturday night, Ervin swung hard at a pitch in the fourth inning and drilled the ball over the wall in left.
It brought the crowd of 4,357 to life on a humid afternoon but wasn’t enough to spark a rally as the Blue Wahoos fell 3-1 to the Mississippi Braves in the opener of a crucial five-game Southern League series at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.
The Blue Wahoos (31-25) fall into second place and sit a half game behind the Braves (31-24) in the South Division with 14 games to play.
Despite the loss, it’s no time to hit the panic button.
“There isn’t any pressure on these guys. A lot of them were in Bakersfield (Ca.) last year when we made the playoffs,” Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. “We just have to win every series and we will win the division.”
Ervin’s home run, his second in as many days and the fourth hit at this level since coming up from High-A Daytona Aug. 20, cut the Braves’ lead to 3-1. It was the lone highlight on a day when offense was difficult to generate, with Pensacola managing just three hits against starter Lucas Sims.
“The pressure came off last night when I got my first hit,” Ervin said. “Now I feel like I can just go out there and relax and have fun.”
Sims made life tough on the Blue Wahoos, striking out 10 as he won his third game of the year. He worked six innings, throwing hard often, his average pitching hovering around the 90-mile per hour mark. The effort kept Pensacola off balance and limited opportunities to do damage.
“(Sims) pitched a heck of a game,” Kelly said. “We had very few opportunities to hit the ball. He was consistent the whole day.”
Blue Wahoos starter Daniel Wright wasn’t bad either, throwing a no-hitter through the first two innings.
One mistake proved costly. That was the two-run home run he allowed to Rio Ruiz in the fourth that pushed the Braves in front 3-0.
Wright, who gave up five hits and struck out seven, fell to 9-10 on the season.
“Wright had the one bad inning. Other than that, he did a great job. He went out and gave us seven innings. It gave us a chance to rest our bullpen.”
Ervin came up with two of the three hits for Pensacola, leading off with a double in the third. His streak of four consecutive hits ended in the ninth when he grounded out.
Pensacola went into the ninth with a chance to win, thanks in part to a great throw at the plate by Jesse Winker that gunned down KD Kang, who tried to dance around catcher Kyle Skipworth and avoid the tag.
But no one came up with a hit for Pensacola in the ninth as the hope for a rally faded away.
Still, the Blue Wahoos have every reason to remain confident. They are still alive and well in their pursuit of the first playoff berth in franchise history and are enjoying playing meaningful baseball in August.
“We don’t think about the pressure of it,” Ervin said. “It’s a lot of fun being in this position. It’s exciting having something to play for. We’re just trying to stay in the hunt.”