ALLENTOWN, Pa. — In a game that was back-and-forth all night and saw a record-setting offensive performance from Derrick Mitchell, the Gwinnett Braves rallied in the ninth inning to beat Lehigh Valley 9-8 on Friday night.
Mitchell hit three home runs in the game, becoming the first Gwinnett player to accomplish the feat. His effort was also the first three-homer game by an Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A player since Scott Thorman hit three homers for the Richmond Braves on July 30, 2005 at Charlotte.
The win moved Gwinnett (.559 winning percentage) into a virtual first place tie with the Durham Bulls in the International League South Division. The Bulls dropped their fifth straight game on Friday, losing 3-2 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to fall to 20-16 (.556) on the season.
Mitchell, 3-for-4 with four RBIs on the night, hit a solo homer in the second inning, a two-run homer in the fourth inning and another solo homer in the ninth inning.
His third blast of the game was by far the most dramatic.
With the G-Braves trailing 8-7 in the top of the ninth, he drilled a 1-1 pitch from Lehigh Valley reliever Seth Rosin over the left field wall to tie the game.
After one out in the ninth, Phil Gosselin pounded a triple to right field and scored the eventual winning run on a double to right by Todd Cunningham.
Leading 9-8, the G-Braves and reliever Ryan Buchter had to hold off a Lehigh Valley rally in the bottom of the ninth. The IronPigs put runners on second and third with two outs, but Buchter got Tyson Gillies to fly out to left to end the game.
The game began as if Gwinnett would run away from the IronPigs. Joey Terdoslavich doubled home Jose Constanza in the top of the first for a 1-0 lead. A sacrifice fly by Christian Bethancourt followed by a throwing error by Lehigh Valley first baseman Jim Murphy allowed two runs to cross for a 3-0 G-Braves’ lead.
The lead grew to 4-0 in the top of the second when Mitchell hit his first homer of the season, a deep solo shot to left off IronPigs’ starter Greg Smith.
But the IronPigs responded as Sebastian Valle cracked a three-run homer to left off Gwinnett starter Gus Schlosser to cut the lead to 4-3 in the second inning.
Lehigh Valley tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth when Tyler Henson led off with a double, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a force play at second on a ball hit by Leandro Castro.
Mitchell came to the rescue again in the top of the fourth, as with Edward Salcedo on first with two outs, he hit another long blast to left to put Gwinnett back in front 6-4.
In the bottom of the fifth, with Mark Lamm now on in relief of Schlosser, Lehigh Valley took the lead.
Henson led off with a single to right, stole second and scored on a single to left by Castro to make it 6-5. Valley later lined a two-out, two-run double to left to push the IronPigs ahead 7-6. Their lead became 8-6 when Maikel Franco led off the bottom of the seventh with a solo shot off Gwinnett reliever Atahualpa Severino.
The Gwinnett comeback began in the top of the eighth when IronPigs’ reliever Ken Giles walked Tommy La Stella to begin the inning and Terdoslavich followed with a double to right, moving La Stella to third. Bethancourt lifted a sacrifice fly to right, scoring La Stella to cut the deficit to 8-7.
That set up the dramatic last at-bat win for the G-Braves in the top of the ninth.
Schlosser worked four innings in his second start with Gwinnett this season. He allowed four earned runs on four hits, walked one and struck out five.
In addition to Mitchell’s historic 3-for-4 night, Cunningham, Terdoslavich and Constanza each had two hits for the G-Braves.
The G-Braves and IronPigs meet in Game 2 of the four-game series Saturday night at 6:35 p.m. Left-hander Ian Thomas (0-0, 0.00) is scheduled to make his second start for the G-Braves, while the IronPigs will counter with right-hander Barry Enright (0-2, 5.22).