- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Blue Crabs win back-to-back games in Sugar Land
By DALLAS COGLEStaff writer
Jeremy Owens proved Tuesday and Wednesday that the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs also have a player-coach capable of impact offense.
Sugar Land player-coach Victor Gutierrez capped a dramatic four-run rally in the ninth inning of Monday’s series opener with a walk-off single to center field in front of Owens to hand the Blue Crabs a heartbreaking 5-4 loss.
Owens returned the favor, and then some, the next two nights on the road in Texas in front of the Skeeters’ league-best large crowds — averaging a robust 6,287 fans through the first three games of the series. The Blue Crabs are sixth out of the Atlantic League’s eight teams with an average home attendance of 3,485.
Tuesday, Owens belted a back-breaking, three-run home run in the fourth with two outs en route to a 5-1 Blue Crabs victory, as Sugar Land extended the inning with a costly error that set the stage for the Southern Maryland player-coach’s long ball.
Owens continued to be a difference-maker in Wednesday’s 8-5 win for the Blue Crabs as he led off the team’s four-run third with a walk and then tripled to start the fourth. He scored both times in sparking the Blue Crabs to a 5-2 lead and they never looked back as Sugar Land got no closer than a couple runs the final 5 1/2 frames.
“I’ve got to play against Guti [Gutierrez] a couple years now and he’s a competitor,” Owens said about Sugar Land’s player-coach hero on Memorial Day. “I didn’t think about it that way [of trying to one-up him in the battle of player-coaches]. You have to put [Monday’s loss] on the backburner. If you sit there and dwell on it too long, you’ll find yourself in the same situation.”
He added, while characteristically diminishing any credit his way, “Any player-coach likes to lead [by example]. It’s a confidence-builder for me when I’m able to contribute like that. Hopefully that stuff continues for this club.”
Despite losing three of four at Freedom Division cellar-dwelling York and suffering the gut-wrenching defeat Monday in Sugar Land, the Blue Crabs still had a chance of finishing their season-long 11-game road trip with a winning record Thursday, entering the series finale with the Skeeters by splitting the first 10 contests on the three-city journey away from Southern Maryland.
Thursday’s action finished too late for inclusion into this edition.
The Blue Crabs begin a nine-game homestand at 7:05 tonight versus Liberty Division rival Bridgeport in the confines of Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium.
“You always try to play .500 on the road. I would be really pleased [going 6-5] because this has not been an easy trip,” said manager Patrick Osborn, whose Blue Crabs (16-17) moved within 5 1/2 games Wednesday of division-leading Long Island (21-11) with the best record in the league.
Long Island had won nine of their previous 12 games, including a ninth-inning comeback Tuesday, before dropping a 1-0 tight affair Wednesday to Camden (14-18), in last place in the Liberty Division.
“Absolutely, we have a chance,” Owens emphatically said about the Blue Crabs still being capable of catching Long Island for the first-half division title before the race ends on July 8. “Honestly, we haven’t played them yet and that’s a good thing.”
The Blue Crabs will have 10 cracks at Long Island between June 14 and July 4, but seven of those games are on the road, including the three-game series that has them in the Big Apple for Independence Day.
The Blue Crabs hope to be playing much more consistently by then, as their record of one game under .500 entering Thursday illustrates the kind of up-and-down season it has been for the club thus far.
“I think at times this club gets ahead of ourselves and doesn’t take care of the little things,” Owens said. “A lot of times, we have a lot of strikeouts and poor at-bats because everybody is trying to do too much so we can have the big inning. We’re not taking care of the little things to get us over the hump [offensively and defensively].
“We can’t worry about Long Island until we actually play them. Then we’ll focus on them.”
He added, “The good thing is we haven’t played our best ball yet.”
The Blue Crabs cooled off a hot Sugar Land team Tuesday and Wednesday. The Texas expansion club had won eight of its previous 10 contests through Monday.
The Blue Crabs took supreme advantage of three Sugar Land errors Tuesday as all five of their runs were unearned.
Wednesday saw Blue Crabs leadoff man Mike Daniel and ninth-place batter Richard Giannotti lead a 12-hit offensive attack where all but one player had at least one hit and everyone reached base.
Daniel was 3 for 5 with two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored, while Giannotti was 2 for 3 with a triple, double, two RBIs and two runs scored.
“Obviously we swung the bats really well tonight but I thought all around we played well,” Osborn said. “I’ve been making the lineup based more on matchups.”
Mastery on the mound
Despite the Blue Crabs providing plenty of offensive support in their back-to-back wins with a combined 13 runs and 19 hits, the pitching in both games from their Nos. 4 and 5 starters could not be overlooked.
Rayner Oliveros (2-1) went 6 2/3 innings Tuesday to win his second straight outing, allowing just one earned run on four hits while fanning five and walking a batter.
“[Tuesday] should be all about what Rayner did,” Owens said. “Our pitching really won that game. Rayner Oliveros made a good statement for himself.”
Deinys Suarez (1-2) picked up the win Wednesday by gritting out a solid five innings, yielding three runs — two of them earned — on seven hits.
He walked four but fanned seven, including a big strikeout with runners on second and third and just one away in the opening inning with Sugar Land already scoring the first two runs of the game. Suarez kept Sugar Land from scoring anymore in the first and the Blue Crabs offense took over the game from there.
“Deinys battled through five innings and the bullpen did a good job,” Osborn said.
Owens added, “Those guys in the [Nos.] 4 and 5 spots [of our rotation] have good stuff. We’re going to believe in them.”
Two nights after his roughest outing of the season in blowing his fifth save, Blue Crabs closer Jim Ed Warden came on in the ninth Wednesday in a non-save situation, ahead 8-3.
It was not exactly a smooth outing for Warden despite the Blue Crabs winning this time. He surrendered two earned runs on four hits as things got a little interesting before Sugar Land’s rally came up short.
“Jim Ed is my closer,” a resolute Osborn said. “I have the utmost confidence in him. He will remain our closer.”
Atlantic League standings
(Standings as of Wednesday)
Liberty Division W L Pct. GB Streak Last 10
Long Island 21 11 .656 ---- L-1 6-4
Bridgeport 17 16 .515 4.5 W-1 4-6
Southern Maryland 16 17 .485 5.5 W-2 5-5
Camden 14 18 .438 7.0 W-1 5-5
Freedom Division W L Pct. GB Streak Last 10
Lancaster 17 15 .531 ---- W-2 4-6
Somerset 15 16 .484 1.5 L-3 3-7
Sugar Land 15 17 .469 2.0 L-2 7-3
York 13 18 .419 3.5 L-1 6-4
WednesdayBlue Crabs 8, Sugar Land 5
Blue Crabs 004 102 001 8 12 1
Sugar Land 200 010 002 5 13 0
WP Suarez (1-2), LP McKeller (1-4)
Extra-base hits: 2B Daniel 2 (BC, 6), Benjamin (BC, 3), Padgett (BC, 8), Giannotti (BC, 7), Botts 2 (SL, 13), Pressley (SL, 5), Rodriguez (SL, 1); 3B Owens (BC, 2), Giannotti (BC, 3)
TuesdayBlue Crabs 5, Sugar Land 1
Blue Crabs 100 400 000 5 7 0
Sugar Land 000 000 100 1 6 3
WP Oliveros (2-1), LP Phillips (0-3)
Extra-base hits: 2B Locke (SL, 5), Botts (SL, 11); HR Owens (BC, 5)