LAWRENCEVILLE — It just wasn’t the Gwinnett Stripers’ night — or Xolos de Gwinnett, for that matter — in Thursday’s doubleheader against the Columbus Clippers, a.k.a. Veleros de Columbus.
The visitors struck for four runs in their final two at bats of Game 1 to score a 5-2 win, while Los Xolos stranded five runners, four in scoring position, as a comeback attempt of their own came up short for a 5-3 loss in the Copa de la Diversion nightcap, giving Columbus the sweep before 1,782 fans at Coolray Field.
Combined with Durham’s loss in Syracuse and Charlotte’s win at home against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Stripers lead in the International League South Division is down to just two games over the Bulls and 2 1/2 games over the Knights.
In the opener, Touki Toussaint had only one clean inning in which he retired Columbus in order.
However, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-hander battled his way through five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and three walks with five strikeouts to give Gwinnett a chance to win.
It looked like the Stripers would give him all he would need when Pedro Florimon launched a solo home run 431 feet off the batters eye in straightaway center in the bottom of the first for a 1-0 lead, but that was all they would get off Clippers starter Shao-Ching Chiang (7-8) for the next five innings.
And after Toussaint departed, the game went sideways on the Stripers and reliever Jacob Webb (0-1) in the top of the sixth.
Continuing his assignment from the Atlanta Braves to rehab an elbow injury, the right-hander got into immediate trouble by issuing a walk to You-Cheng Chang to lead off the inning before Johnson squibbed an infield single to put runners on first and second with nobody out.
One out later, Ka’ai Tom followed with an RBI single that pulled Columbus even at 1-all, and he and Chang advanced a base when Cristian Pache overran the ball while trying to scoop it up quickly to try to make a throw to the plate.
Max Moroff followed with an infield single that drove home Johnson to give the Clippers their first lead of the game at 2-1, and Jake Bauers broke the game wide open with a liner to left that Drew Waters lost in the sun and went to the wall for a two-run double to make the score 4-1.
Johnson added a solo homer off Corbin Clouse an inning later, and Chiang pitched around Alex Jackson’s solo homer in the bottom of the seventh to close out the complete-game victory for Columbus.
In Game 2, Columbus broke a scoreless tie with Tom’s solo homer off Huascar Ynoa (2-5) to lead off the top of the fourth, and then added two more runs on Jake Bauers’ two-run shot an inning later for a 3-0 lead.
After having trouble with Columbus pitching over the first four innings of a bullpen game by the Clippers’ staff, the Stripers finally began to get to the fourth pitcher of the night, right-hander Jared Robinson, in the bottom of the fifth after Bauers’ leapt and crashed into the wall to rob Atlanta Braves outfield prospect Cristian Pache of extra bases to lead off the inning.
Sean Kazmar followed by lining a triple over the glove of Tom in right-field, and came home on John Ryan Murphy’s RBI single to get Gwinnett on the board at 3-1.
Luis Marte then blooped a single inside the right field line to put runners on the corners, and Waters, the Braves’ other top outfielder prospect, came through by greeting Rob Kaminsky’s first pitch with an RBI single to bring the Stripers to within 3-2 with runners still on the corners with still only one out.
But Kaminsky managed to get Florimon to roll into a 6-4-3 double play and keep Columbus’ lead intact after five innings.
The Stripers had one last chance to rally after the Clippers added key insurance runs on Eric Stamets’ RBI fielder’s choice grounder and Bauers’ RBI single in the top of the seventh.
Kazmar led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk, with Murphy following with a single and Waters, who finished the doubleheader 3-for-7 with an RBI, drawing a walk one out later to load the bases.
Florimon then drew James Karinchak’s third walk of the inning to force home a run and pull the Stripers to within 5-3, and put the tying run in scoring position with the bases loaded and still only one out.
But Columbus’ seventh pitcher of the game, right-hander James Hoyt, came out of the bullpen to strike out Ryan LaMarre and Duda to leave those baserunners stranded and lock down his third save of the season by making a winner out of Hector Hernandez (1-1) to give the Clippers the sweep.
The Stripers now welcome Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Coolray Field for a now critical three-game series beginning Friday at 7:05 p.m.
Right-hander Bryse Wilson is scheduled to get the start against a RailRiders starter yet to be announced.