After going 23-9 in the month of August, the scorching hot Binghamton Rumble Ponies rattled off their ninth consecutive victory with a 4-1 win over the Thunder in the opener of their best-of-five eastern division series on Wednesday night at NYSEG Stadium.
The Thunder drew first blood in the first inning by capitalizing on one of their limited opportunities against right-hander Corey Oswalt, who was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year last week. Singles by shortstop Thairo Estrada and designated hitter Garrett Cooper put runners on the corners with two outs. With Dante Bichette Jr. batting, Oswalt uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop which allowed Estrada to score and put Trenton ahead early, 1-0.
Binghamton would not trail for long though, as they forced Dillon Tate to labor through the first inning in just his fifth career Double-A start. The 23-year old right-hander issued back-to-back walks to start the frame before surrendering a well-struck double to designated hitter Peter Alonso to give the Rumble Ponies a 2-1 advantage.
After both clubs exchanged zeroes in the second, Tate again was forced into immediate trouble after walking Alonso to lead off the third frame. Following a single by left fielder Kevin Taylor, Tate yielded a crushing two-run double to first baseman Matt Oberste to extend the Binghamton lead to 4-1.
Meanwhile, Oswalt allowed just three hits over his final six innings of work, two of them to outfielder Zack Zehner. The 24-year old right-hander cruised through seven strong innings for Binghamton, allowing a lone first inning run on five hits with seven strikeouts. In three starts against Trenton this season, Oswalt has now given up just four earned runs in 20 innings of work.
“He commands all of his pitches; he throws strikes,” said Mitchell. “You have to give him credit, he is a good pitcher and he is the pitcher of the year for a reason. His command is really, really good. He keeps the ball down in the zone a lot.”
Mitchell added, “I thought that we came out decent. We hit him early with some line drive base hits, but once he settled in and once they scored four runs, I think he just started to settle in and got more confidence as a good pitcher does.”
Tate allowed a lead off single in the fourth inning before Mitchell came to the mound to pull his young starter at the 73-pitch mark in favor of Jose Mesa Jr. Having been used as both a bullpen arm and a starter this season, Mesa Jr. was stretched out and ready to give the Thunder length after dipping into their pen earlier than expected.
“He didn’t have the command the he normally has,” said Mitchell in regards to Tate’s outing. “He pitched behind in counts and when you do that against a team like this, you’re going to pay for it. I thought that he pitched up in the zone and he got hurt there.”
On the heels of three consecutive scoreless outings in the starting rotation, Mesa Jr. kept the Rumble Ponies at bay by allowing just three base runners over the final five innings of action. Mesa Jr. has now tossed 21 consecutive scoreless innings dating all the way back to August 17 against Akron.
“He is unbelievable,” said Mitchell in regards to the run that Mesa has been on. “This guy just goes in there and gets outs; he knows how to pitch. He has just been absolutely outstanding for us. He just came in and did a phenomenal job; it’s the same thing that he has been doing for us since he came up.”
While the Thunder struggled to create any type of momentum over the first eight innings, they pieced together their best scoring threat in the top of the ninth inning against hard-throwing right hander, Tyler Bashlor, who had struck-out 84 batters in 49 2/3 innings this season. Following a walk to Cooper to open the inning, a double to left field by Bichette Jr. put two runners in scoring position with nobody out. With the tying run coming to the plate, Blashor was able to punch out Nick Solak, Ryan McBroom and Zehner in succession to nail down the save and preserve a game one victory for Binghamton.
Rehab Report: Playing in his first game since July 9, rehabbing big-leaguer Clint Frazier went 0-for-3 with three strike outs while serving as the third hitter in the lineup. The 23-year old outfielder played six innings in right field before
“We all know that hitting is timing,” said Mitchell. “He hasn’t faced anybody in about a month; he is definitely timing wise, like anybody would be, rusty in that situation.”
Playing in his seventh game for the Thunder, Cooper finished the nigh 1-for-3 with a walk. He has now gone 9-for 23 and appears to have had no nagging issue at all with the left hamstring that has kept him out of action since August 17.
Mitchell said that Frazier will DH nine innings in game two on Thursday night, while Cooper is slated to play first base for the entire length of the game.