BOWIE–Bowie Baysox pitcher Alex Wells was one pitch away from working out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam to preserve a 1-1 tie in Game 3 of the Eastern League Championship Series. After giving up one run and throwing just 58 pitches through the first six innings, the Australian left-hander gave up singles to Trenton’s Hoy Jun Park, Chris Gittens and Isiah Gilliam to start the seventh. He followed that up by striking out Kyle Holder and Angel Aguilar, and had Brian Navarreto locked in a 1-2 count.
The announced crowd of 2,104 at Prince George’s Stadium was on its feet, focused intently on watching Wells make that one final pitch. But their focus should’ve been on Park at third. Trenton’s second baseman dashed for home, surprising everyone but himself. As a left-handed pitcher, Wells couldn’t see any of it when he came to set.
“He picked the right time to go, and I couldn’t hear anything,” Wells said. “By the time I stepped off it was too late.”
Wells would strike out Navarreto to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Thunder had the go-ahead run, enough for a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 series lead in best-of-five series. Bowie needs a win Friday night to extend the series and its season.
“That’s kind of a tough one to swallow right there,” Baysox manager Buck Britton said.
Bowie had runners on first and third with two outs in the seventh inning and a one-out walk by Yusniel Diaz in the eighth inning, but couldn’t muster the game-tying run.
The Baysox split the two games in Trenton, losing Game 1, 6-2, before bouncing back with a 7-2 win in Game 2. Yankees pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino made rehab starts in Games 1 and 2. Orioles’ 2016 first-round pick Cody Sedlock outpitched Severino in Game 2.
While both teams had some up-and-down starting pitching in the first two games, the first five innings of Game 3 resembled a pitcher’s duel. With Zac Lowther being placed on the injured list Wednesday, Wells’ start was moved up a day. Wells was still pitching on normal rest, and scattered six hits across seven innings and struck out eight, attacking batters with his fastball to get ahead and keeping them off balance with his slow curveball.
The performance represented everything that made Wells successful this year. He continued to attack batters, despite his fastball rarely going over 90 miles per hour.
The only real mistake Wells made before the seventh came in the top of the second, when Gittens crushed a home run over the center-field fence to give the Thunder a 1-0 lead.
“That’s the guy we’ve seen all year,” Britton said. “What a competitor.”
His counterpart, Clarke Schmidt, was every bit as good. Schmidt hadn’t given up in an earned run in his last 21 innings entering the start, and Bowie didn’t really have an answer. His fastball hit as high as 95 mph, and the Baysox also struggled with both his curveball and changeup.
“We weren’t making any adjustments,” Britton said. “He kept throwing that breaking ball in the dirt and we just kept swinging at it.”
Only Cedric Mullins was able to get a hit off the lefty, who finished with nine strikeouts. Mullins started the bottom of the first with a leadoff single, then had an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game. The Baysox managed just three hits all night and struck out 15 times.
MLB.com’s fifth-rated prospect in the Yankees’ farm system, Schmidt lasted just 4 2/3 innings because of command issues, throwing 46 strikes on 82 pitches. James Reeves struck out Anderson Feliz to end the fifth inning, and Michael King pitched the final four innings to earn the win.
Tyler Herb will take the mound for Bowie on Friday in a must-win situation, another challenge for a team that few expected to be here at the beginning of the season. After a 7-23 start, the Baysox battled back to win the second half division title and advance to the ELCS.
“All the obstacles that’ve been set before us, we’ve battled and overcome them,” Britton said. “So why not this one?”
Sedlock’s strong Game 2 start: Sedlock ended his year with a start the Baysox needed, allowing just one run and four hits in five innings. He gave up a run in the first inning, then retired the next nine batters.
It was Sedlock’s first appearance in 11 days, and he said he isn’t a pitcher who likes to get extra rest in between starts. But after throwing an extra bullpen session and feeding off the postseason atmosphere, he was dialed in.
“I love pitching in that sort of atmosphere and going out there and knowing that the only thing anyone cares about is winning,” Sedlock said.
Lowther to the IL: The Baysox announced Tuesday that the projected Game 3 starter was headed to the injured list, which Britton said pregame was for “general soreness.” Britton said Lowther would love to have pitched in Game 3, but he didn’t want to jeopardize his future. The 23-year-old led the Eastern League in wins (13) and strikeouts (154), posting a 2.55 ERA in 148 1/3 innings.
“For a guy like that, it’s more important for the longevity of his career,” Britton said. “I know it’s the Double-A championship and we’d love to have him. It’s nothing serious, but there’s no sense in trying to ride a guy out there for one more start.”
Major league eating: The Orioles have been sending good luck messages to the Baysox throughout the postseason, including one from Brooks Robinson. The current players have been helping in more ways than that. Dylan Bundy, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have sent money to help pay for better postgame team meals.
“It’s nice,” Britton said. “Sometimes in the minor leagues you eat the same thing over and over. No PB&J’s for a couple days.”