When a team is in a funk, missed opportunities are magnified and adversity finds them. The Hickory Crawdads experienced all of that and more Saturday night and the Greenville (S.C.) Drive took advantage with a pair of late homers to take a 7-4 win in front of 1,987 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Crawdads (45-65) dropped their 13th in a row overall, surpassing a 12-game streak last accomplished in May 2005. The loss also assured the Crawdads will finish with the worst record by winning percentage since becoming an affiliate of the Texas Rangers in 2009. Hickory was 63-76 in 2009.
Lack of clutch hitting and another day of poor bullpen performances contributed to the loss, but the game turned with a series of key moments in the eighth. With the score tied at 3-all entering the eighth, Greenville rudely greeted new reliever Nick Starr with a double by Tyler Dearden and a two-run homer by Brandon Howlett to take a 5-3 lead.
However, the Crawdads returned fire in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Brandon Nail walked Isaias Quiroz and Jember Gutierrez collected his first hit with Hickory to put runners at first and second. Nail served a fat 0-2 fastball to Frainyer Chavez, who pulled it into the corner in left. Quiroz scored and Gutierrez was sent to try and tie the game. But throws from Dearden in left and cutoff man Christian Koss made it to the plate in time for Stephen Scott to tag Gutierrez for the out, according to home plate umpire Dylan Bradley. Manager J.J. Johnson argued the play at the plate without success, but the Crawdads still had a runner at third with two outs.
Greenville brought in reliever Zach Bryant to face Ezequiel Duran. After running the count to 3-1, Duran fouled off a fastball and then was called out by Bradley on a check swing to end the inning. Under a chorus of boos from the crowd, Johnson argued the call and was ejected by Bradley.
The Drive added to the Crawdads misery in the ninth, as Nick Yorke, the Boston Red Sox top pick in 2020 and currently the team’s No. 4 prospect, according to MLB.com, swatted his fourth home run in 16 games with the Drive to account for the game’s final margin. All four have come against Hickory, including two this week.
The Crawdads took a 2-0 lead two batters into the first, as Duran smacked his 19th home run of the season. Stephen Scott’s two run homer (8th) in the fourth got the Drive even briefly, as Duran doubled in Chavez in the bottom of the fourth to put Hickory back up 3-2.
Yet, the Crawdads missed several opportunities early to increase their lead. Hickory put 12 base runners on over the first five innings, but scored stranded eight in that stretch and had another runner thrown out at the plate. For the game, Hickory went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, had two runners thrown out at the home and hit into a double play to end the game. The bottom of the Crawdads order had an especially tough night, going 1-for-10 with 2 walks and eight strikeouts.
Starr (1-3) was hung with the loss due to the go-ahead homer he allowed in the eighth. Nail improved to 5-0 on the save with the victory, and Bryant earned his fifth save with the Drive.