Gwinnett Braves player Stefan Gartrell swings at a pitch during Friday’s game against the Durham Bulls. (Special photo: Karl Moore)
LAWRENCEVILLE — It took five innings, but after starting as showcase of pitching, suddenly a runs came from everywhere.
An early 2-0 Gwinnett Braves lead begat a 3-2 deficit which begat a 4-3 lead and finally a 5-4 loss to split a four-game series with division leading Durham.
“The game got away from us,” manager Randy Ready said. “We just gave them too many chances.”
Gwinnett took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second on an inning-ending two-RBI single by catcher Matt Pagnozzi. With runners on second and third following a Brandon Boggs walk and Stefan Gartrell double, Pagnozzi drove a ball just reaching glove of Bulls second baseman Mike Fontenot. Gartrell beat the throw to the plate standing up, but when Pagnozzi tried to stretch the hit to second base, Bulls catcher Jesus Flores gunned his counterpart down easily.
The bats were silent over the next four innings with the two teams combining for four hits and both pitchers, Gwinnett’s Cody Martin and Durham’s Matt Buschman, relaying on strikeouts and double plays to escape limited trouble.
Then, in the sixth, everything changed.
Two G-Braves errors, including the second of the game by third baseman Joe Leonard, propelled the Bulls to three runs and their first lead. G-Braves starter Martin walked the first two he faced in the inning and on a bunt attempt threw the ball into right field, allowing Tim Beckham to score. That was the last pitch he threw, turning the ball over to Joe Beimel. On the first batter faced, Leslie Anderson grounded sharply to third on a ball that was mishandled by Leonard allowing the tying run to score. With one out, Evan Frey grounded out with a runner on third to score the go-ahead run.
The inning marred an otherwise servicable five innings by Martin. In five-plus innings pitched the right hander allowed just three hits with four walks and seven strikeouts. Only one of the runs was earned, though one of the errors belonged to Martin.
“He was doing OK,” Ready said of Martin. “He got out of some jams. He kept us in the game, that’s for sure.”
Gwinnett got its starter off the hook for the loss in the bottom of the sixth with two runs, aided by a Durham error. With runners on second and third, Gartrell grounded out to score Alden Carrithers. Leonard followed with a go-ahead single, but like Pagnozzi before him was thrown out at second trying to extend the hit to an extra base on the throw to the plate. It was the second inning-ending RBI single of the game for the G-Braves.
Durham volleyed in the seventh after another Leonard error on a sharp ground ball. The bobble allowed Tim Beckham to reach second. Beckham scored on a wild pitch and two Mark Lamm walks later Shelley Duncan singled to make it 5-4. The inning ended on the play when Chris Gimenez was caught between second and third. In the three back-and-forth innings, the teams combined for seven runs and just three hits.
The loss went to Lamm who allowed two unearned runs in 2/3 of an inning with a pair of walks. Starting with Martin, the G-Braves pitchers struggled with the walk combining to allow 10 free passes.
“It put a lot of pressure on our defense all night,” Ready said.
Gwinnett did put the tying run on base in the ninth when Gartrell came up with the team’s fourth hit of the game and Leonard moved him to second on a sac bunt, but that’s were Gartrell stayed through a groundout and a Sean Kazmar strikeout.