Fresh off a three-game sweep of the rival Louisville Bats over the weekend which put them back in first place, the Clippers got a day off on Monday and came back Tuesday to start another important series at Huntington Park. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is leading the IL North, and came in 1.5 games in front of Columbus for the second overall seed in the IL playoffs. The second seed earns home-field advantage in the first round of the IL playoffs.
Carlos Carrasco took the bump fresh off a solid start on Thursday, and picked up right where he left off. The righty wasted no time, burning through the Yankees in the first 1-2-3 including a strikeout. The Clippers’ bats posted Carrasco to an early lead, thanks in part to some good work on the basepaths. Once Michael Brantley moved up to Cleveland (presumably for good), manager Mike Sarbaugh elected to move speedy Jose Constanza into the leadoff spot, and to follow him with newcomer Ezequiel Carrera who is also fleet afoot.
Constanza led off the first with a single, and promptly stole second. Carrera then lashed a double, scoring Constanza. Cord Phelps stepped in and followed suit, hitting a double of his own, and before anyone was out the score was 2-0 in favor of Columbus. “On the road trip, we had a tough time getting things going,” Sarbaugh said, speaking of the recent 1-7 road trip that saw Columbus lose its division lead before the weekend series with Louisville. “Jose batted leadoff all last year in Akron. I just thought putting him at the top and moving Carrera into the two-hole definitely puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Tonight, Constanza got a bunt single (and) Carrera got a bunt single. It makes the defense be especially on their toes.”
The Clippers’ bats and legs were able to pad the lead in the third, and again it was the top of the lineup doing the damage. Constanza led off with a walk, and again stole second. Carrera followed that with a single to left, and a rush/bobble by the left-fielder allowed Constanza to score to push it to 3-1; it also allowed Carrera to move up to second which would help set up another run. Yankees hurler Zack McAllister threw a wild pitch to Phelps, and Carrera was able to move up to third. After Phelps struck out, Goedert followed with a ground ball single to center to score Carrera. It was now 4-1, and with the way Carrasco was pitching it was all Columbus would need. Columbus would tack on another run in the eighth on a Drew Sutton double in the to round out the scoring.
Carrasco hit his only bump in the road in the second, when Jose Miranda led off with a single. A fielding error on the next at-bat by 3B Jared Goedert allowed Miranda to move to third, and all of a sudden it was first-and-third with none out. A sacrifice fly by Colin Curtis made the score 2-1, but Carrasco would not let the Yankees have anything else on this night. He struck out the next two hitters to get out of the second without further damage. Over the next five innings, Carrasco would scatter four hits and notch three more strikeouts to never allow the Yankees to threaten again. He finished with a great line of: 7.0 innings, 1 run (unearned, ERA: 0.00), 5 hits, 0 walks, and 6 strikeouts. “Everything [with my arm] is perfect,” Carrasco said. “I was little bit tired the last couple of innings, but everything was good today.”
His catcher Damaso Espino agreed: “His fastball wasn’t as strong as it is normally, but his command was good,” Espino said. “He pitched really well. There are days when (pitch velocity) is down, especially in August. It’s late in the season. He gave us seven innings. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Carrasco notched his 10th win of the season in 23 starts (10-5), and lowered his season ERA to a very respectable 3.71. In addition to Carrasco’s brilliant start, the Clippers’ bullpen was also stellar. Josh Judy and Vinnie Pestano each worked a perfect inning in the eighth and ninth, and each struck out two along the way. It was the textbook definition of a bullpen slamming the door.
The ramifications in the standings were good, as well. The Clippers moved to 72-52, and Scranton fell to 72-51, meaning the two teams are now separated by just a half game. In addition, Louisville won last night, meaning they are still just 2.5 games behind Columbus; regardless of who’s in front of them, every win for the Clippers is important because it lowers their magic number (18, with 20 games to go), and Louisville is showing no signs of going away even in spite of the three game sweep this weekend. It’s officially crunch time, and the Clippers appear to have righted the ship (ha!) just in time.
The four-game series continues tonight at Huntington Park at 7:05, as the Clippers send lefty David Huff (7-0, 3.75) to the hill against Yankees’ right-hander Ivan Nova (11-3, 2.93). Should be a good one, as Nova has been Scranton’s most consistent starter all year, and Huff has been very solid in his stints with Columbus this year.
Photo Credit: Chris Russell – Columbus Dispatch