NORFOLK, Va. -- The Gwinnett Braves made sure the final game of their season-opening road trip was one to remember.
Down 12-5 to Norfolk, the Braves plated seven runs in the top of the ninth to send the game to extra innings and then won it with two runs in the top of the 11th. Jose Constanza's two-run triple provided the winning margin in a rousing 14-12 comeback win over the Tides in front of 6,062 Wednesday afternoon at Harbor Park.
It started out ugly for Gwinnett, as Norfolk touched right-handed starter Erik Cordier for three runs in the first inning and two runs in the second for a quick 5-0 lead. The G-Braves would get a run back in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly to center by right fielder Stefan Gartrell.
However, four more runs allowed by Cordier in the bottom of the fourth put the game seemingly out of reach at 9-1.
Gartrell moved the G-Braves closer at 9-4 with a three-run homer in the top of the fifth, his first blast of the season. The Braves cut further into the lead with a run in the top of the eighth on a ground out to third by shortstop Greg Paiml. The play scored catcher Jose Yepez from third and made it a 9-5 deficit after seven and a half innings.
But Norfolk center fielder Jai Miller connected on a three-run homer off left-handed reliever Ben Swaggerty to push the Tides' lead back out to 12-5 in the bottom of the eighth.
That set the stage for the wild top of the ninth.
Constanza led off the inning with a walk off of Tides reliever Willie Eyre. Gartrell followed with a single to center, and Ernesto Mejia plated Constanza with another single to center to make it 12-6. The hit extended Mejia's hitting streak to seven games.
After one out, first baseman Christian Marrero walked to load the bases. The Tides changed pitchers and brought in right-hander Jon Link from the bullpen. Link issued back-to-back walks to Yepez and second baseman Josh Wilson to make it 12-8. Paiml then lifted a sacrifice fly that was dropped by Norfolk right-fielder Scott Beerer. The sacrifice scored Marrero from third to make it 12-9, while the dropped ball by Beerer loaded the bases again. The Tides again went to the bullpen and brought in right-hander Pat Neshek. He promptly walked center-fielder Luis Durango to cut the lead to 12-10. Constanza, in his second at-bat of the inning, then singled to center to score both Wilson and Paiml and tie the game at 12.
The game stayed tied until the top of the 11th. Left-hander Dontrelle Willis came on to pitch for Norfolk and walked Yepez to begin the inning. Then with Jordan Parraz at first base as a pinch runner, Willis had to leave the game with an apparent injury to his pitching hand. Norfolk manager Ron Johnson, with his bullpen exhausted brought infielder Scott Tolleson in to pitch. After Tolleson recorded the first out, an error by third baseman Zealous Wheeler put two G-Braves aboard. One out later, a triple off the right-center wall by Constanza plated both runners for a 14-12 Gwinnett lead. The G-Braves held the slim lead in the bottom of the 11th as Adam Russell (S,1) came in to notch his first save.
Cordier gave up nine runs, six earned on seven hits, three walks and one strikeout in his 3 innings of work. Left-hander Jose Lugo pitched 2 scoreless innings of relief, while right-hander Jason Rice worked 1 innings of scoreless baseball. Cory Gearrin (1-0) got the win in relief of Swaggerty. Gearrin worked 2.0 scoreless innings and struck out four.
Constanza, in his first game since being optioned from Atlanta, was 3-for-4 with a single, double, triple and four RBI. Gartrell also had four RBI on 2-for-5 hitting. Durango (2-for-6, RBI) and Paiml (2-for-5, 2 RBI) each added multi-hit efforts for the G-Braves.
Right-hander Brad Bergesen started for Norfolk. He lasted five innings, giving up six hits, four runs (three earned) while walking four and striking out none. Left-hander Zach Phillips allowed a run over two innings. Eyre went 1.1 innings with three hits and four earned runs. Link was credited with no innings pitched and two earned runs. Neshek worked 1 scoreless innings and Willis (0-2) suffered the loss, pitching to one batter in the 11th before being pulled.