(Courtesy Aberdeen IronBirds )
One night after breaking out of a terrible offensive slump in which the IronBirds were outscored 35-5 in three games, Aberdeen watched as its pitching staff had one of its finest outings of the season Monday. Three Aberdeen hurlers combined to toss a three-hit shutout in the IronBirds 4-0, home-field win over the Batavia Muckdogs.
The whitewash was Aberdeen's second of the 2011 campaign. The last was back on July 9, when the IronBirds two-hit Tri-City in a 2-0 victory.
The win pushed Aberdeen to 12-26 on the season, and through Monday the IronBirds were still at the bottom of the New York-Penn League's McNamara Division, 7.5 games behind third-place Hudson Valley.
The contest clocked in at two hours and 17 minutes, which is the second quickest game Aberdeen has seen so far this season, and its brevity was not lost on the IronBirds, who have been playing for the last week in temperatures well above 90 degrees.
"It's really nice to get a two-hour game," winning pitcher Trent Howard said. "When you've been playing in weather so hot and sticky, getting one wrapped up quickly is always good."
Howard (2-1) took on the lion's share of the mound duties, coming on in the third frame after starter Ryan Berry was pulled, and tossing six innings of two-hit ball to earn his second win of the season.
"The main thing that was working for me tonight was that I had command of all four of my pitches," Howard said in a post-game interview. "Last time I went out, I couldn't get my curve over for strikes, and I was able to do that tonight. My [cut fastball] was working too, but I didn't rely on that as much. Toward the end of the game they were sitting dead red on my fastball, and even though I'll normally go right at a hitter when I think they're expecting something, I didn't do that as much tonight. I was able to keep them off-balance pretty well."
Over six innings, Howard struck out nine and issued three bases on balls.
"I had nine strikeouts, and I did have those three walks, but they were all really close," Howard said. "On each of those, I thought I'd thrown a strike, but the ump didn't."
Berry lasted two innings in the start, striking out one and allowing one hit. Zach Petersime came out of the bullpen in the ninth to close out the game.
Aberdeen got things rolling offensively in the opening frame, with Sammie Starr reaching base on a one-out single to right, which was followed by center fielder Mychal Givens' base hit to the same spot. After Starr stole third and Joe Velleggia went down swinging for the second out, Wynston Sawyer ripped a 1-2 breaking ball into right for an RBI single. With Connor Narron at the plate and Givens sitting at third, Sawyer was caught in a rundown after attempting to steal second base, but that gave Givens enough time to score Aberdeen's second run before Sawyer was tagged out.
After going silent for the next three frames, the IronBirds padded their lead by a run in the fifth. Narron opened the frame by earning a walk, but he was gunned down by a the Muckdogs' right fielder attempting to take third on second baseman Dudley Leonora's one-out single. Leonora, who advanced to second on the throw, scored when Kyle Hoppy popped an RBI single into short center field.
The visiting half of the fifth saw Howard helped by some flashy defense. With a man on third and one out, Howard surrendered a hard, sinking line drive to center that looked like it might drop in, but Givens got a good jump on the ball and was able to make a sprinting basket catch. The Muckdog runner on third attempted to tag when Givens tossed the ball to the infield, but he became the second out of an inning-ending, 8-4-2 double-play after second baseman Leonora fired a strike to Sawyer, who blocked the runner with his left shin guard and applied a sweeping tag.
"The defense was just phenomenal tonight," Howard said. "They helped me out of a couple jams. That play in the fifth, with Givens and Leonora, was a great combination. And, in the fourth, Hoppy ran down a ball in right that I didn't think anyone had a chance of getting to. That was an unbelievable play."
In the sixth, Starr led off by working the Batavia hurler for a walk, swiped second base and advanced another 90 feet on Velleggia's line drive single to left. Sawyer came up fourth and put the IronBirds up 4-0 with an RBI groundout to short that allowed Starr to sprint home.
"We had good pitching tonight, so we didn't need to score so many runs," Aberdeen manager Leo Gomez said. "Howard pitched a really good game, and we got some hits when we needed them."
Hoppy was the lone IronBird with two hits, going 2-for-3 with one RBI.