As the dangerous Andy Dirks walked from the on deck circle to the batter’s box, Louisville catcher Devin Mesoraco walked out to the pitcher’s mound for a conference with right hander Jerry Gil.
For both teams, this eighth-inning at-bat was critical. Dirks, the Mud Hens leadoff hitter had already crushed two home runs, and the idea that he might hit a third — or at least drive in a base runner or two — permeated throughout Fifth Third Field.
Gil ultimately snuck a fastball by Dirks with the count full, it perhaps being the decisive moment in Louisville’s 6-4 win in a series opener on Saturday.
Seventeen games into the season, the Hens (6-11) have yet to put together a winning streak, and Saturday night seemed liked a prime opportunity with them taking a 4-2 lead into the eighth.
“You look at the stats from this game, you look at the box score, and you wonder how and the heck we lost it,” manager Phil Nevin said. “But we did.”
They lost it because of failures by their bullpen to close a disastrous eighth inning, and by the offense to capitalize on prime scoring chances in each of the final three innings.
Starting pitcher Adam Wilk had retired one batter and given up one run in the eighth inning when Nevin summoned right hander Robbie Weinhardt from the bullpen.
Weinhardt’s first pitch traveled into the back of the catcher Mesoraco, putting a second runner on base but also creating a double-play opportunity. Weinhardt’s second pitch produced a much worse result, as Todd Frazier clobbered the offering, the ball landing somewhere on Monroe Street behind left field.
Weinhardt (0-1) was charged with two of the three runs.
“Robbie’s the guy we’re going to go to,” Nevin said. “It was one pitch.”
The Hens could not manage to land a counter punch in the bottom half of the inning, with Max St-Pierre and Dirks unable to deliver a hit to plate Argenis Diaz standing at third. It was a similar story in the innings that sandwiched the eighth, with both beginning with two batters reaching base and ending with three straight outs.
“Sometimes [the other team’s] going to get the big hit, and we don’t get the big hit,” Dirks said. “Other nights we’ll get the big hit and they won’t. That’s just what baseball comes down to.”
Dirks drove in four runs, three of them on a home run in the fourth inning that narrowly missed breaking a window and landing in the dining room at Fricker’s. In the inning prior, Dirks crushed a hanging breaking ball from starter Scott Carroll to about the same destination in right field, only with a little less oomph.
“Just a matter of time before everything kind of falls into place,” he said. “It’s still really early in the season and when it does, we’ll be a really good ball team.”
Nevin said his team’s shortcomings at the plate are not yet a concern because the starting pitching has been so strong.
Wilk capped off a week in which his teammate Charlie Furbush recorded a one-hitter in an abbreviated seven inning game by working 7? innings, allowing three earned runs and striking out seven.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get him the win,” Nevin said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160