***By Bill Vilona, Pensacola Blue Wahoos Senior Writer
Two days ago, the Blue Wahoos were at their lowest point of the season, having dropped three straight games and lost their first series of 2019.
By the end of tonight’s game, they had their swagger back, having taken their series finale against Mobile by a 4-2 score, giving them back-to-back wins to salvage the series before a long road trip to Tennessee.
Powered by Joe Cronin and Ernie De La Trinidad, the No. 7 and No. 8 hitters in the batting order, along with four innings of flawless relief pitching, the Blue Wahoos were winners again on Monday night.
“Yeah, like back to normal,” said Blue Wahoos manager Ramon Borrego with a wide smile after the game. “Our routine…winning and winning. That feels good.”
A crowd of 4,285, which pushed the team’s season attendance after 20 home games to just under 90,000, saw a return of the style of play that led the Blue Wahoos (28-17) to their franchise-best start and Southern League South Division lead.
Mixing timely hits with solid pitching, Pensacola took an early lead in what proved to be a back-and-forth affair, then regained it in the sixth inning before their reliable bullpen took over to seal the win.
Coupled with the Biloxi Shuckers’ loss Monday, the Blue Wahoos extended their division lead to four games heading into their longest road trip geographically of the season, which begins Wednesday against the Tennessee Smokies, the Chicago Cubs affiliate, who play just outside of Knoxville, Tenn. in Kodak.
“I know it was first series we lost all year,” said De La Trinidad, who went 2-for-3 with two RBI. “But we were able to bounce back these last two games and be able to feel good. It’s big to go on the road with some momentum.”
Like so many wins this season, the Blue Wahoos jumped to a lead in the first two innings. Travis Blankenhorn led off the first by drawing a walk, then later scored on Mitchell Kranson’s two-out single.
Mobile’s Erick Salcedo knocked a solo home run in the top of the second to tie the score, but De La Trinidad answered with a homer of his own in the home half of the inning to put the Wahoos back on top by a run.
After Mobile tied the game in the fourth on Brandon Saeger’s homer, the Blue Wahoos regained the lead in the sixth inning.
In the sixth, after Caleb Hamilton and Ben Rortvedt drew back-to-back walks with two outs, Cronin and De La Trinidad delivered clutch RBI singles for the 4-2 lead. The two hitters in lower half of the order finished with four hits and three RBI.
“One through nine can definitely hit in this lineup,” said De La Trinidad. “Not every day that everybody is going to be on. But the guys ahead picked us up in the past, and the bottom half was able to do so tonight. Team game right there, just picking up your teammates.”
On the mound, starter Randy Dobnak provided a solid start for Pensacola, allowing two runs on five hits over 5.0 innings while striking out seven.
From that point, the bullpen dominated. Tyler Jay threw 1.1 scoreless. Williams Ramirez, in his first appearance of the season after being activated from the injured list yesterday, recorded three strikeouts while yielding no hits to the five batters he faced.
Cody Stashak then followed with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth to record his fourth save.
“The pitchers did a great job. We finally were able to add runs late in the game,” Borrego said. “Basically, offensively, we have struggled to execute. To see Ernie and Cronny get those hits, that’s exciting. I hope we can continue to swing the bat like that.”