What a difference a week makes. Since losing two out of three to the Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox) at home last week, the Thunder have been a roll winning seven straight, including the first three games of their current four-game series in the Sea Dogs home park. Over the last three days, the Thunder have not just beaten the Sea Dogs but clubbed them into submission with an offense that has produced 27 Runs and 42 hits and tomorrow’s 1:00 PM Memorial Day finale still to come.
Sunday afternoon the Thunder offense was relatively tame with “only” 10 hits and 6 runs in a 6-2 win. While yesterday’s offensive show somewhat overshadowed an excellent start by Yefry Ramirez, today was all about top prospect Justus Sheffield. The young lefty’s day ended after 6 2/3 impressive innings (the longest start of his career) and the Thunder ahead 5-1. Sheffield threw 102 pitches with a great strike to ball ratio of 70-32 and 6 strikeouts, and he expertly mixed three pitches (fastball, slider, and changeup) throughout the game. Sheffield’s fastball clocked consistently between 90-92 MPH even into his final out, but it was his ability to efficiently locate the pitch that made it so difficult to hit. Today Sheffield was able to pound it low in the zone and spot it side-to-side, which played up the velocity even more. Even the few pitches that the Sea Dogs were able to hit hard missed the barrel of the bat and ended up as fly ball outs (8 on the day). Sheffield’s slider sat anywhere between 85-89 MPH and his changeup between 80-84 MPH and again he was able to locate both low in the strike zone as well as on both sides of the plate. The Sea Dogs did manage to drive
Sheffield’s fastball clocked consistently between 90-92 MPH even into his final out, but it was his ability to efficiently locate the pitch that made it so difficult to hit. Today Sheffield was able to pound it low in the zone and spot it side-to-side, which played up the velocity even more. Even the few pitches that the Sea Dogs were able to hit hard missed the barrel of the bat and ended up as fly ball outs (8 on the day). Sheffield’s slider sat anywhere between 85-89 MPH and his changeup between 80-84 MPH and again he was able to locate both low in the strike zone as well as on both sides of the plate. The Sea Dogs did manage to drive up Sheffield’s pitch count by fouling off pitch after pitch, including a 12 pitch at-bat by Nick Longhi in the second inning.
Sheffield’s only real challenge came in a strange 3rd inning that included a Thunder error and some questionable strategy by Portland. A leadoff double followed by a wild pitch on a swinging strike out put runners on first and third. A curiously timed squeeze bunt bounced gently in front of the mound, allowing Sheffield to quickly pounce on it and make a perfect underhand flip to Jorge Saez for an easy tag of the runner coming home. Mike Ford’s error on a sharp ground ball loaded the bases and the Red Sox number one prospect, Rafael Devers, was able to beat out a potential double-play ball and drive in an unearned run. A fly out to Billy McKinney in right ended the Sea Dog’s threat, and Portland never generated any other real scoring chances against Sheffield.
The Thunder tied the game in the top of the fifth when Jorge Saez drilled a one-out single and advanced to second on an error by the left fielder. A wild pitch moved Saez to third, and Abiatal Avelino followed with a single to left to bring in Baez with the tying run. Portland’s consistently poor defense has hurt them throughout the series including today’s two errors and a wild pitch. In the top of the sixth, the Thunder broke the game open by scoring four runs. McKinney led off the inning with a double and scored on Miquel Andujar’s single to center.
Mike Ford’s excellent piece of hitting produced a single to left field and Zach Zehner’s double scored Andujar with Ford taking third. Rashad Crawford’s deep sacrifice fly brought in Ford in for the third run. Billy Fleming followed with a single to drive in Zehner. Jorge Baez hit a frozen rope to Portland third baseman Mike Olt whose attempt to double off Fleming sailed into right field and allowed Fleming to advance all the way to third. The inning ended, however, with Avelino striking out and a Thunder 5-1 lead.
The top of the seventh brought two quick Trenton outs, but Miquel Andujar turned on a fastball and crushed it over the 37’ high replica Green Monster in left for the Thunder’s sixth run. Sheffield got two quick outs in the bottom of the seventh on a relatively deep fly ball to center, and a swinging strikeout on an 84 MPH change up. A hard single to left field ended Sheffield’s outing, and J.P. Feyereisen came in to get the final out of the inning. Trenton went down quickly in the top of the eighth and Feyereisen got two quick outs in the bottom of the eighth despite a rather pedestrian 86-89 MPH fastball. An 87 MPH fastball over the middle of the plate to Rafael Devers, however, ended up as a towering home run over the right field wall into the Sea Dogs bullpen, but a fly out to McKinney in right field allowed Feyereisen to escape any further damage.
Feyereisen, despite only giving up one run, failed to impress with a rather flat 84 MPH breaking ball to go along with his mediocre fastball. Two hard hit fly ball outs in the bottom of ninth and a strikeout ended the game to continue the Thunder winning streak. The two teams will close out the four-game series tomorrow with a 1:00 PM Memorial Day matinee.