The IronBirds returned to Ripken Stadium on Independence Day following a five-game road trip, but the familiar settings did not help the Aberdeen men break out of their rut, as they were knocked off for the seventh straight time, losing 6-0 to the visiting Hudson Valley Renegades.
With the Monday-night loss, the IronBirds fell to 2-16 on the year, which put them at the bottom of the New York-Penn League's McNamara Division, 6.5 games behind third-place Hudson Valley.
Monday's match-up saw the IronBirds keep things close for the first eight innings with a mix of solid pitching and slick defense, and heading into the final inning they were trailing just 1-0.
"We tried every inning," Aberdeen manager Leo Gomez said. "The pitcher that [started] for them today had really good stuff, and when a guy pitches that good, you have to give him credit. He pitched well for the first seven innings".
Aberdeen had a chance to score in the bottom of the first, as Glynn Davis led off with a base hit up the middle, immediately swiped second base, then advanced to third when the Hudson Valley hurler balked with two outs. The IronBirds' Joe Velleggia then came up and hit the second pitch he saw hard to dead center, but the Renegade outfielder was there to chase it down for the inning's final out.
"Anytime you get guys on with one out, you're looking for that base hit that's going to score them," Gomez said. "But, we failed to do that again tonight, and that's part of the game. We need to keep playing day by day, and keep fighting."
In the top of the second, the IronBirds snuffed out a potential rally with some fine defense. After starter David Baker surrendered a leadoff single to right, the next Renegade batter smoked a grounder up the middle that was speared by shortstop Mychal Givens, who flipped the ball from his glove to Dudley Leonora at second. Leonora caught the ball with his ungloved hand, pivoted on the bag and flung a throw to Velleggia at first, completing the 6-4-3 double-play.
Hudson Valley's first run came in the top of the third, when with a man at third and two down, Baker surrendered a long fly ball to right. Aberdeen right fielder Chris Clinton nearly made an acrobatic, inning-ending catch, but the ball bounced off the heal of his glove, allowing the runner to score from third.
With one out in the home half of the third, Clinton knocked a pitch into the gap in right center, and kept motoring past first base even after the Renegade centerfielder cut the ball off. Seemingly caught by the throw at second base, Clinton made it in safely with a nifty headfirst slide that allowed him to avoid the tag. The one-out double was followed by left fielder Austin Knight's strikeout, and Givens' hard line out to short.
Baker was once again aided by his defense in the top of the fourth, which began with a long shot into the left field corner. Knight played the carom, turned and threw a bullet to Leonora, who tagged the runner out.
With two down and a man on first in the sixth, the IronBirds defense stepped up another time when third baseman Connor Narron made a diving stop of a grounder deep in the hole, then nipped the lead runner at second base with a throw from his knees.
"We played very well defensively," Gomez said. "They did a good job out there tonight. I'm happy that they made some really good plays, and the routine ones, too."
Still trailing, 1-0, in the bottom of the seventh, and having collected just two hits to that point, the IronBirds got a one-out single from Clinton, but he was left stranded after Leonora and Davis were retired in order.
Pinch hitter Kyle Hoppy made the most of his first at-bat, belting a leadoff single up the middle to start the IronBirds' half of the eighth, but his hit was nullified when Leonora's sacrifice bunt attempt fell dead two feet in front of the plate, and Hoppy was forced at second by the Renegade catcher's throw.
The spectators who came for the post-game fireworks witnessed some earlier than they might have expected, as the top of the ninth featured explosions from IronBirds manager Gomez, who was ejected, and from the Renegades, who scored five runs. The trouble started for the IronBirds when reliever Steven Mazur allowed a leadoff single and then, after retiring one batter via a fly ball, was charged with a balk by the chief umpire.
The balk call elicited loud protests from the IronBirds' coaching staff. Mazur uncorked a wild pitch, allowing the runner to move to third, then surrendered a single that pushed home the Renegades' second run. Immediately following the run-scoring play, the home plate ump turned to the Aberdeen bench and ejected Gomez, who had yelled at the umpire from the top dugout step. Gomez trotted to the home plate area to engage in a short, but heated, conversation with the chief umpire, then walked out to the home clubhouse. The ejection was Gomez's first since taking control of the IronBirds this season.
Following Gomez's dismissal, Mazur allowed back-to-back singles, the second of which was a short fly to right that Hoppy fielded and fired to Wynston Sawyer at home. The lead runner was called safe at the plate, but Sawyer managed to gun down the Renegade trying for third base for the second out of the inning. Mazur was replaced by Enrico Jimenez, who coughed up a two-run homer to left, then a solo round-tripper to right, making the score, 6-0, in short order.
"That's part of the game," Gomez said after the game, when asked about his relievers. "Sometimes, the [relievers] will come in and have trouble with their control. Sometimes, that's going to happen."
The IronBirds were retired in order in the bottom of the ninth, ending the game.
Baker (0-2) left the game after five innings, having struck out four, walked one, and scattered seven hits. Davis was the lone IronBird with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with a double. Hoppy and Sawyer each rapped out a single, which accounted for the balance of Aberdeen's hits.