By Brian Lester
Ray Chang has been playing minor league baseball for a decade and has seen nearly every scenario possible.
It’s why the Pensacola Blue Wahoos first baseman didn’t hit a panic button when the likelihood of a win looked slim early Monday night against the Jackson Generals.
Yes, the Blue Wahoos trailed the Generals 5-0, and yes, their starting pitcher, Wandy Peralta, was knocked out of the game in the third inning after a ball hit his throwing hand.
But that didn’t mean all hope was lost.
“It had been such a weird game and we felt out of sync,” Chang said. “And then we all looked at each other and said we were going to win it. We just had that feeling.”
The feeling was spot on.
Down 6-0 at one point, the Blue Wahoos roared to life, scoring four times in the eighth inning to finish off a thrilling 8-7 Southern League win over the Generals at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.
“It was awesome. It was such a great game for us to win,” Chang said.
Chang helped contribute to the comeback.
His hit up the middle started off a wild fifth where the Blue Wahoos scored four times to cut their deficit to 6-4. He came up with another clutch hit in the eighth that ended with Pensacola in front by a run.
Ryan Wright’s two-run double to center tied the game at 7-7 and Kyle Skipworth scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch as Pensacola snapped a two-game losing streak and won a series for the third time this month.
“That is why you play nine innings,” Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said.
Jackson went down in order in the ninth as Kyle McMyne sealed the deal for his fifth save.
“He has been outstanding,” Kelly said. “He’s done a great job in the closer role.”
Wright’s performance wasn’t bad either. He came up with two of the Blue Wahoos’ 13 hits. His double in the eighth was the biggest as the ball dropped in a gap and sent the Memorial Day crowd of 4,149 into a frenzy.
“Wright drove the ball to right-center, and with the wind blowing in, it got away from (Gabby) Guerrero and (Jordy) Lara didn’t get a good jump on it. It blew away from them. Everything he hits is hard. It’s fun to watch him hit.”
There never appears to be a shortage of drama on the bay.
Monday’s game was the latest example.
After back-to-back losses by two runs or less, the Blue Wahoos refused to go down without a fight.
They got on track in the fifth thanks to Joe Morillo, who was promoted from Single-A Dayton this week. Morillo came through with a shot to center to give the Blue Wahoos their first run of the game.
Juan Silva’s hit over the head of Lara in right cut the deficit to 6-2 and Wright’s groundout drove in another run.
Marquez Smith knocked in a run with a groundout as well. Pensacola nearly cut the gap to one on a hit by Seth Mejias-Brean but Jesse Winker was tagged out at the plate to end the inning.
Chang isn’t surprised by what the Blue Wahoos were able to do against the Generals based on the success the offense has enjoyed lately. In the last three games, Pensacola has scored five or more runs and has racked up 35 hits.
“Our confidence is soaring,” Chang said. “It’s back to where it should be.”
Chang’s presence has had a lot to do with that.
“I’ve been there. I have experience and have gone through this before,” Chang said. “I try to give guys a pat on the back when they do things right or let them know when they do something wrong. I just try to bring a good (veteran) presence to the club.”
The Blue Wahoos were down 4-0 after one inning and 5-0 after two.
Peralta, starting for the ninth time and searching for his third win, was hit in the left hand by the ball. He tried to shake it off, walking away from the mound before throwing a few warm-up pitches.
“He felt like he could still pitch and the trainer said no more damage could be done,” Kelly said. “But that is a valuable left arm and it wasn’t worth it to give him a chance to hurt it more.”
Layne Somsen replaced him and pitched four innings, giving up a home run in the seventh to Jabari Blash, who smoked the ball over the wall in left in the sixth to push Jackson in front 7-4.
But the Blue Wahoos continued to battle and nailed down their 14th win of the month. They now head out on the road for 10 games.
“It’s a big 10 games,” Kelly said. “We play Mississippi and Mobile, two teams ahead of us in the standings.”