LAWRENCEVILLE — For the third straight game, a big inning did in the Gwinnett Braves.
This time it was a six-run third inning — capped by Brent Morel’s two-run double — which doomed the G-Braves to a 7-4 loss to the Charlotte Knights before 5,513 fans Friday night at Coolray Field.
KNIGHTS 7, G-BRAVES 4
What happened: Charlotte struck for six runs in the third inning to erase a two-run deficit and roll to the victory. Ryne Reynoso yielded four straight hits to lead off an inning in which 10 Knights came to the plate and six came home. The G-Braves right-hander recovered to pitch 2 2⁄3 more solid innings, but the damage was done.
Web gem: Charlotte first baseman Josh Kroeger made a nifty back-handed stab on Matt Young’s grounder in the hole between first and second and threw back to pitcher Lucas Harrell to get the speedy Young at first.
Pivotal moment: Trailing 7-3 in the fifth, the G-Braves looked like they were mounting a rally when Young and Freddie Freeman had back-to-back singles with one out. Barbaro Canizares then sent a hard-hit ball up the middle, but Charlotte second baseman Fernando Cortez had him played perfectly, and started a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat. Cortez then started another double play after the G-Braves had cut the lead to 7-4 to end the sixth.
Worth noting: Atlanta Braves outfielder Nate McLouth began a rehab assignment on his way back from the disabled list Friday and had an immediate impact with his lead-off single to spark a three-run first inning for the G-Braves. McLouth then sent a deep drive to the warning track just in front of the 400-foot mark to the right of center and finished the night 1-for-3.
On deck: The series with Charlotte continues tonight at 7:05 with the G-Braves sending left-hander Jose Ortegano (2-5, 6.08 ERA) to the mound. The Knights had not yet announced their starting pitcher as of press time.
The outburst came on the heels of a four-run inning in the series-opening loss to Charlotte on Thursday and a six-run rally that helped Norfolk take that series finale Thursday.
“(It seems like) it’s probably been more than (three in a row),” G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. “The big innings have bit us right in the rear end.”
After spotting Charlotte a run in the top of the first, it was actually the G-Braves who had the first multi-run inning of the game with the help of an Atlanta Brave trying to come back from the disabled list.
Outfielder Nate McLouth, in the first game of his rehab assignment after being on the disabled list for almost a month with a concussion, laced a 2-0 pitch up the middle for a solid single. He went to third on Matt Young’s hit-and-run single and scored one out later on Barbaro Canizares’ grounder behind the bag at second to tie the game at 1.
An error on the play left runners on first and second with just one out, and both runs came in to score later in the inning on Joe Thurston’s bloop single to right, giving the G-Braves a 3-1 lead.
McLouth also hit the ball solidly his second time at the plate, sending a deep drive for an out just in front of the 400-foot mark to the right of center field and finished the night 1-for-3 before being replaced in the sixth inning.
“Nate’s been out for about a month, (but) he’s been here the last couple days swinging the bat and stepped right in like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Brundage said. “It’s nice to see him hit a couple balls hard.”
Unfortunately for the G-Braves, their lead lasted only two innings, when Charlotte pulled off its big third inning.
The first four hitters got singles of Ryne Reynoso (2-7), including Stefan Gartrell’s RBI single that pulled the Knights to within 3-2.
After another hit and Tyler Flowers’ bases-loaded walk tied the game at 3, Brent Morel gave Charlotte a 5-3 lead with his two-run double into the left field corner, and Fernando Cortez and Rob Hudson each added sacrifice flies to left later in the inning.
When the dust settled, 10 Knights came to the plate and six touched home, and Charlotte had a 7-3 lead.
Reynoso managed to hang in the game another 22⁄3 innings to take some pressure off Gwinnett’s overworked bullpen before leaving in the sixth.
“I knew he didn’t have it in the third inning,” Brundage said of the right-hander. “To Reynoso’s credit, he could’ve folded up his tent and gone home. But I’ll tell you what, he gave us three pretty big innings after that. ... We’re trying to get to the All-Star break and knowing that we’ve got a bullpen day on (Sunday), it could’ve depleted that.”
The G-Braves got one run back on Mitch Jones’ sacrifice fly in the sixth to make the score 7-4 and had more chances to pull even closer.
But Charlotte pitcher Lucas Harrell (7-8) induced inning-ending double plays in the fifth and sixth to escape jams and Knights relievers Randy Williams and Ryan Braun faced just one over the minimum over the final three innings to nail down the win.
The loss for the G-Braves came despite 10 hits, including two each from Young, Thurston and Freddie Freeman.