The red stitch marks from the baseball were still visible across the right side of Travis Blankenhorn’s face.
In a game that ended with disappointment from the Blue Wahoos 5-4 loss in 10 innings Thursday night at Blue Wahoos Stadium against the Mobile BayBears, fate was still kind to Blankenhorn.
The Blue Wahoos second baseman smashed a home run to lead off the first inning, then hit another solo shot in the fifth, after getting smashed in the face an inning earlier by a bad-hop, rocket, ground ball by Mobile’s Jack Kruger.
His scary moment included teammates gathering around as Blankenhorn rolled on the grass, wondering if his teeth were intact. A crowd of 4,402 fell silent as Blankenhorn battled the intense pain.
“We were in the shift and I was just on the outfield grass,” BIankenhorn said. “I saw the ground ball off the bat, it hit the lip and it got me right in the face. Just a tough position, back behind the grass. The first thing was that I had to make sure I still had my teeth.
“That is probably the first one I have taken one off the face.”
He took one deep on the first pitch he saw to start the Blue Wahoos first inning. Two batters later, Jaylin Davis doubled, the scored when Taylor Grzelakowski reached on a throwing error.
The 2-0 lead held through four innings as Blue Wahoos starter Griffin Jax stayed in command while stranding base runners. The game began a home weekend series for the Blue Wahoos (26-15) who have won all eight series this season.
In the fifth inning Thursday, Mobile (16-24) took advantage after Jax hit leadoff batter Connor Justus. No. 9 batter Erick Salcedo tripled to score Justus, then a sacrifice fly scored Salcedo to tie the game.
The Blue Wahoos regained the lead when Blankenhorn hit a two-out homer in the bottom of the inning.
“I was trying to just stick to my swing instead of trying to chase pitches,” he said. “I got two good fastballs.”
“Blank has been doing a great job,” said Blue Wahoos manager Ramon Borrego. “He’s been swinging the bat really well. And playing really well defensively, too.
“That’s what we expect from this guy, he has a really good approach at the plate.”
The BayBears’ Salcedo followed, however, in the sixth with the game’s biggest hit on a two-out, two run single, giving the BayBears a 4-3 lead.
Joe Cronin tied the game in the seventh on his one-out, solo homer. It stayed tied until the eventful 10th. The BayBears got another two-out hit, an RBI single from Brandon Sandoval to take the lead.
In the bottom of the 10, after Cronin started on second base in the MILB extra-inning format, Mark Contreras was hit by a pitch. Jordan Gore was unable to get a bunt down on hard-throwing reliever Zac Ryan, whose fastball was in the high 90’s. Blankenhorn struck out and Alex Kirilloff popped out to end the game.
“We have to execute in that situation,” said Borrego. “That was a big SAC bunt. If we execute there, probably the game goes different. But those guys battled from the beginning to the end and somebody has to win.”
(Ryan) had good stuff,” Blankenhorn said. “He had a good slider and a 97 mile-per-hour fastball with good run, so it was good stuff. We just have to do better the next time.”
The chance awaits Friday on a Giveaway Friday and 6:35 p.m. start time where the first 2,000 fans will receive “Dilly-Dilly” foam shield, courtesy of game sponsor Budweiser.
***This report was provided by Bill Vilona, Blue Wahoos Senior Writer