It was an unlikely source that sent the Gateway Grizzlies to a loss in their 2011 season opener Friday night at GCS Ballpark.
Southern Illinois’ ninth-hole hitter Will Block belted Jarrett Attard’s 1-0 offering over the 16-foot high wall in left field to hand the Grizzlies a 4-3 setback in 13 innings. Block, in his third year with the Miners, hit four home runs last year and just one in 2009.
Block had stuck out twice and singled before delivering the game-winning homer.
After squandering a 3-0 lead in the eighth, the Grizzlies had a chance to reclaim the lead in the bottom of the frame but left the bases loaded for the second time on the night. Gateway stranded a total of nine guys on the bases, including leaving the bases loaded in the third.
“Stranded a lot of guys tonight,” said Gateway manager Phil Warren. “That’s the story of the game. We never put them away and they stayed in the game.”
The Miners threatened to score in the 10th off Chris Enourato, who made his Grizzlies debut. The rookie struck out the side despite walking two and hitting a batter to load the bases.
The Grizzlies bullpen weren’t able to pitch around two walks in the eighth as the Miners scored three runs on just two hits to even the game at 3-3.
Reliever Nick Walters walked the first two batters he faced, and pinch-hitter Sean Harrell’s double down just inside the right-field line brought in Jereme Milons and Sean Coughlin. Southern Illinois tied the game on Justin Randall’s bloop single.
Jake Shafer took over for Walters and needed just two pitches to leave runners on the corners.
“Saw a lot of walks,” Warren said. “The home run is the home run. He laid one in there. The other bullpen guys, Walters struggled a little bit and Shafer picked him up to keep it a tied game. A lot of walks on our side and a lot of guys left on base.”
Gateway pitchers walked a total on nine batters.
Gateway scored its first run of the season on Jason Patton’s sacrifice fly in the second, and Landon Hernandez’s line drive to right field made it over the four-foot high fence for the first home run of the season.
Hernandez’s sacrifice fly in the sixth staked starter Mark Brackman to a 3-0 lead, but Brackman didn’t earn the win despite six scoreless innings. Brackman, who led the Grizzlies with 13 wins last season, allowed five hits, struck out two and walked two.
“Landon is the reason why we had three runs and they only had three at the time,” Warren said. “His defense really stood out. Mark pitched his butt off, which you expect. I don’t totally put this on the bullpen, we had some chances to put them away offensively and didn’t do it. That’s the way it goes.”
Hernandez caught Kenji Sakaguchi and Coughlin stealing to end scoring threats in the second and fourth.
The two teams play the second of the three-game series Saturday night with first pitch slated for 7:05 p.m.
Southern Illinois 000 000 030 001 — 4 12 2
Gateway 011 001 000 000 — 3 7 1
Sean Teague, Justin Robichaux (5), Cory Cowsert (8), Erik Draxton (12) and Sean Coughlin, Tyler Bullock (11). Mark Brackman, J.R. Boling (7), Nick Walters (8), Jake Shafer (8), Chris Enourato (10), Jarett Attard (12) and Landon Hernandez. WP-Cowsert (1-0). LP-Attard (0-1). S-Draxton (1). HR: So. Ill.-Will Block, 12th, none on. Gate.-Hernandez, 3rd, none on. Att.-4,672. Time: