LAWRENCEVILLE — Saturday may have been “Christmas in July” night at Coolray Field, but the Gwinnett Braves were not in a giving mood.
Timely hits by Ernesto Mejia and Brandon Boggs were the offensive stocking stuffers for the 7,546 fans in attendance, while the pitching staff kept visiting Indianapolis from being a Grinch by scattering seven hits in the G-Braves’ 2-0 win.
Mejia and Boggs each had two hits — all but one of Gwinnett’s total of five — with Mejia’s total including a milestone home run and both RBIs.
Meanwhile, David Hale and four Gwinnett relievers escaped numerous jams throughout the evening to give the G-Braves their third straight win.
After setting down Indianapolis in order in the top of the first, Hale (4-5) spent the better part of the next three innings working through trouble.
But despite having two base runners at one time in each of those frames, the 25-year-old right-hander managed to keep the Indians off the board, including using an effective sinker to induce an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play from Matt Hague to get out of a two-on, one-out situation in the third.
“Recently, I’ve been throwing my sinker a lot, which is a pitch I added this year,” Hale said. “It just gives me confidence when I’m behind in the count.” That allowed G-Braves hitters time to adjust to going from right-handers Jared Hughes — down from Pittsburgh on an injury-rehabilitation assignment — to former Georgia Tech hurler Brandon Cumpton (4-6).
They finally did that with one out in the bottom of the fourth when Brandon Boggs sent a single off his fellow Yellow Jacket alum to bring Mejia to the plate.
The 27-year-old first baseman then jumped on an 0-1 offering from Cumpton and lined it over the berm and off the back wall in left-center for a two-run home run.
The blast not only tied him with former G-Brave Mauro Gomez for the International League lead with 26 on the season, it gave him the Gwinnett single-season franchise record — teammate Stefan Gartrell actually hit 26 in 2011, though only 25 were with the G-Braves.
It also gave him 50 homers for his Gwinnett career, and more importantly, put the G-Braves in front 2-0.
“He’s our go-to guy,” G-Braves manager Randy Ready said of Mejia. “When he’s hitting, we play good. That’s not to put pressure on Ernie, but he’s a force in our lineup because he’s so strong and he can do some damage with one swing of the bat.”
The G-Braves would manage just two more hits off Cumpton and reliever Ryan Reid the rest of the way, and Indianapolis brought the tying or go-ahead runs to the plate in each of the final four innings.
But the Gwinnett bullpen contented its escape artistry, particularly in the final three innings, when Mark Lamm, Wifrin Obispo and Cory Rasmus each coming up with inning-ending strikeouts — with Rasmus’ wrapping up his team-best 12th save of the season.
Hale worked five shutout innings and gave up just three hits with two strikeouts before leaving with a migraine headache and giving way to Juan Cedeno, who pitched the next inning and a third and gave up just a walk.