BY CHUCKIE MAGGIO
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Sometimes, the mark of an unforgettable minor league baseball promotion is the way it helps fans forget about the actual game not going according to plan.
Soon, Rochesterians won’t remember that their Red Wings, err Plates, lost the 4-2 advantage they had on the Norfolk Tides going into the eighth inning on Thursday night. They won’t recall the offense leaving 17 runners on base or hitting just 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position.
When fans think of the night at Frontier Field, they’ll cherish being part of the second-largest Red Wings regular season crowd (13,281 fans) in 21 seasons of play at the ballpark. They’ll have fond recollections of the garbage plates they ate to celebrate the delicacy’s 100th anniversary. The 6-4, 12-inning loss Rochester suffered will be a mere footnote.
However, if the Red Wings end up falling short in the air-tight International League playoff race, they will rue Thursday as a massive missed opportunity, and having the best marketing campaign of the year won’t add any wins to the column.
“(Disappointing) for a million reasons,” Rochester manager Mike Quade said. “We weren’t without opportunities. Sometimes you just get beat, and to leave as many people as we did on base… I would rather not think about that number. We had plenty of chances.”
Red Wings starting pitcher Stephen Gonsalves made his Triple-A debut, and the 23-year-old was impressive, allowing just four hits and two runs while striking out seven batters in seven innings. He retired the first 10 batters and made just one big mistake, serving up a solo home run to Chris Johnson in the sixth inning that tied the game at two and effectively ended his chance of being the winning pitcher.
“I heard it was going to be a big crowd, and it gets you excited. It gets the juices flowing a little bit,” Gonsalves noted. “It’s definitely awesome to pitch in front of that big of a crowd. It always feels good to get that adrenaline rush and hopefully do your best.”
Quade’s normally stout bullpen was unusually ineffective, combining to allow four runs on 10 hits. John Curtiss had his first blown save of the season after converting his previous 19 opportunities (13 in Chattanooga, six in Rochester). Drew Rucinski was saddled with his fifth loss of the year after giving up the two runs in the 12th.
“We don’t (normally) give up runs late in the game like we did,” Quade said. “You have those nights, and you have a choice. You dwell on it and let it bother you and let it get into tomorrow night and the next night, or you learn to turn the page and move on. Not a damn thing we can do about tonight.”
Mike Yastrzemski channeled his grandfather, Hall of Famer Carl, when he led off the final inning with a rocket to the triangle in left-center field that would have been a home run in most parks. Yastrzemski legged out a triple, then scored on Johnson’s broken-bat blooper into right. The Tides tacked on an insurance run on an RBI single by Pedro Alvarez before Jimmy Yacabonis entered the game in the bottom half and sent the Plates down in order to earn the save.
Norfolk is 18-10 since the All-Star break and has the fourth-most total bases in the IL, so it’s not a club to be taken lightly. But with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs losing 9-8 to Charlotte, a win would have moved Rochester into a tie for the league’s wild card spot. North Division leader Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lost 1-0 to Durham in 11 innings, so the Wings would have cut that deficit to 7.5 games, as well.
With 24 games to play, each chance to gain a game on a team is vital. With how successful the IronPigs and RailRiders have been the last two years, they might only lose on the same night one or two more times. The playoff race may have been the biggest factor in Quade’s argument with first base umpire Shane Livensparger in the fifth inning going far enough to warrant an ejection. After Livensparger, the biggest lightning rod of the week at Frontier, deemed Zack Granite to be out of the basepath when avoiding an Alvarez tag, Quade let the ump have it. Instead of runners on first and second with no one out, Leonardo Reginatto was on second and Granite was sent back to the dugout.
“The running lane is there, and he was well inside the running lane for me,” Quade opined. “The (rule) book says three feet. I thought he was nowhere near that far away from what he was allowed to be to avoid a tag. Obviously, the umpire disagreed. I will probably take another look and do some measurements tomorrow. Did he avoid the tag? Absolutely. Was he out of what the book says? I don’t believe so. We might need a scientist to figure that out…
“It was obviously a huge call in a huge situation in the game, to have first and second and nobody out… Probably shouldn’t have gotten ejected, but that’s the way it goes.”
With the pomp and circumstance of Plates Night gone, it’ll be business as usual on Friday night as the Wings hope to bounce back. If they win and the IronPigs lose again, they’ll get the tied standings they were hoping for.
“One that got away, absolutely,” Quade said. “I know Lehigh lost; that hurts too. But you want to dwell on that, then this could turn into something that you don’t want it to turn into.”