After managing to scrape together just one run on six hits in a game one defeat to the Rumble Ponies in the ELDS opener on Wednesday night, the Thunder offense exploded with an 18-hit attack, a new postseason franchise record, en route to a 9-6 game two victory on Thursday night at NYSEG Park. The win knotted the eastern division series at one game a piece with the next three contests moving back home to ARM & HAMMER Park where it will come down to a best-of-three series.
“I think that we came out with a lot of energy,” said Thunder Manager Bobby Mitchell. “Even in our pre-game in the cage; there was no panic, just a lot of energy.”
Trenton was able to draw first blood for the second consecutive night; centerfielder Jeff Hendrix led off the game with a well-struck double off of Ponies starter Ricky Knapp before shortstop Thairo Estrada singled him home with the first of his four hits on the evening to put Trenton ahead 1-0. Third Baseman Dante Bichette Jr would knock home a second run in the frame with an RBI single to extend his hitting streak to six games.
The Thunder put the leadoff man on for the third consecutive inning when Estrada tripled to open the third; he would come home to score on a sac-fly from Clint Frazier one batter later. Now staked to a 3-0 advantage, Bichette Jr. blasted a solo shot over the center field wall to extend the Trenton lead to four.
One night after Dillon Tate ran into trouble by walking four batters in just three innings; game two starter Brody Koerner could not escape the third frame despite being gifted a 4-0 lead. Koerner issued walks to the first two batters of the inning and right fielder Kevin Kaczmarski made him pay for it with a two-run triple. A Peter Alonso RBI single and a double by David Thompson allowed Binghamton to tie it before Thompson himself came home to score on a throwing error by catcher Francisco Diaz to put the Rumble Ponies ahead 5-4 while chasing Koerner from the game.
The 23-year old righty went just 2 2/3 innings and surrendered four earned runs on five hits with with a pair of walks and strikeouts.
“Once we got going in the first three innings and scored those four runs, I think that we had a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence going,” Mitchell said. “Then we gave up the five and we lost a little bit of our momentum.
Mitchell added, “These guys, I thought, did a great job of showing a lot of heart and determination knowing that we were still only down by one run. I thought they did a really good job of staying focused when they fell behind 5-4.”
What was once a four run lead suddenly turned into a one run deficit, but the Thunder would remain true to their approach against Knapp. After a leadoff single by Frazier (1-for-5) in the fifth inning was nulled by a double play ball off of the bat of Garrett Cooper (0-for-4), Bichette sparked a two out rally with this third hit of the night. Zehner picked up his second of three hits on the night with a ground-rule double to put two runners in scoring position. The threat prompted Binghamton manager Luis Rojas to dip into his bullpen for right-hander Drew Smith. The Thunder greeted Smith with three straight hits, including RBI singles by second baseman Nick Solak and Diaz to put the Thunder back in front 7-5.
After reliever James Reeves allowed the first two batters in the bottom of the fifth inning to reach base, Mitchell summoned reliable right-hander Cody Carroll from the bullpen to try and navigate out of trouble. Despite walking catcher Thomas Nido with the bases loaded to force in a run, Carroll fanned three in the frame to limit the damage and keep the Trenton advantage intact at 7-6.
A long solo homer from Estrada in the top of the sixth inning and an hustle RBI double in the ninth allowed the all-star to complete the cycle – the third in Thunder franchise history and first ever in the postseason. More importantly, both hits extended the Thunder lead to 9-6.
“I had no idea, to tell you the truth, when he slid into second,” admitted Mitchell. “I was glad to see that he was safe because I knew that we were going to score, but I had no idea until I got into the dugout and they had told me that he had hit for the cycle.”
“There is no better guy to see that happen to,” Mitchell added. “He plays as hard as anybody all of the time. It is just a fantastic finish to a great season to have him do that before the season ends; it is really fitting for him to be the guy that does that.”
Bottom Feeding: For an offense that has been struggling of late, the bottom half of the order came up huge for the Thunder on Thursday night. The six-nine batters in Zehner (3-for-4 1 BB), Solak (1-for-5 2 RBI), Rashad Crawford (3-for-5) and Diaz (2-for-5 1 RBI) combined for nine of Trenton’s 18 hits on the night.