Despite being on the opposite ends of the standings in their respective divisions, the first-place Southern Maryland Blue Crabs needed a two-run home run in the 10th inning Sunday to avoid the sweep at last-place Somerset.
The Blue Crabs' 7-5 victory was their first extra-inning affair of the season, as catcher Christian Lopez's game-winning long ball was needed after the team had suffered its worst two losses of the season Friday and Saturday in terms of bullpen performance and deficit, respectively, in 7-5 and 7-2 setbacks to start the series against its interdivision rival.
"It was definitely a big home run, and Christian had a number of big hits in that series," said Blue Crabs manager Patrick Osborn, whose club was riding a six-game win streak going into Somerset following a sweep of then-first place Long Island. "I'm not going to lie to you, we didn't want to get out of there losing three out of three. We wanted to salvage one. I'm really proud of Christian. He's a great guy that brings tons of energy to our team. And he loves to compete.
"His home run was a lot bigger than just a late-inning game-winner. It got us a W' as we prepare to get this home stand going."
The Blue Crabs began their string of nine straight home contests Tuesday in a three-game series with the Road Warriors, which were just swept at Waldorf's Regency Furniture Stadium earlier this month. Tuesday's contest finished too late for inclusion into this edition.
The home stand lasts until June 2 and includes three-game sets with Camden and York.
Monday was a leaguewide off-day. The Blue Crabs went into Tuesday's action with the Atlantic League's most victories, still occupying first place in the Liberty Division with a 13-7 mark — 1 1/2 games ahead of Long Island (12-9). Entering Tuesday, the league's best record by percentage points belonged to Freedom Division leader Lancaster (12-6), managed by former Blue Crabs skipper Butch Hobson. Lancaster had a six-game lead on Somerset (6-12), still in the basement of the Freedom Division despite winning two of three versus the Blue Crabs.
"Somerset may have the worst record in [its division], but when it's all said and done, they're going to be in the mix," Osborn guaranteed of a Patriots club that was next to last in the league in hitting through Monday, just ahead of the Road Warriors, yet managed to score more runs in a series against the Blue Crabs' league-leading pitching staff entering the weekend than any Southern Maryland opponent this season. The Blue Crabs were second in the league in pitching behind Long Island going into Tuesday.
The Blue Crabs skipper added of a Somerset team that always has played the Blue Crabs tough, "I'll put that lineup versus anybody in the league. There's a lot of talent over there. They swung the bats really well against us; they showed up against us. Yeah, it may be a matchup thing."
Friday's loss saw the Blue Crabs usually lights-out bullpen have its worst game of the season, coughing up a 4-2 late lead by allowing four runs in the seventh and another in the eighth.
"Even the bests have a bad night," Osborn said, referring to his bullpen. "I have the utmost confidence in our bullpen. They're human and going to make mistakes. We're just going to keep running them out there. They'll be fine. Their success isn't a mirage."
Keying the Somerset rally was a memorable three-run homer in the seventh by Jeff Nettles for a 6-4 lead. The three RBIs on the yard shot gave Nettles 531 for his career, a new league record for the Blue Crabs killer.
Nettles homered again on Saturday, giving him three on the season entering Tuesday — all against the Blue Crabs. His first homer came on opening night in Southern Maryland, and it was a game-winning three-run jack as well.
Saturday featured the Blue Crabs' worst shortcoming of the season, deficitwise, as none of their previous six losses were by more than two runs. Somerset built a 7-0 lead through seven innings before the Blue Crabs scored twice in the eighth to keep from absorbing being shut out for the first time this season.
Adding injury to insult, the Blue Crabs lost two key players to injury in Saturday's game.
Starting pitcher Chris Hayes bounced his final offering two feet in front of the plate in the third, then left the game with an injury to his throwing arm.
Then in the fifth, right fielder Ben Harrison — enjoying a productive season offensively — departed the contest after coming up gimpy on a swing during his at-bat.
"Ben Harrison is day-to-day with an injury to his upper calf, behind the knee," Osborn said Monday night about what appears to be the less critical of the two dinged-up Blue Crabs. "We're trying to figure out what's going on [with Hayes]. Anytime you deal with a pitcher's arm, it can be serious. Hopefully it's something we'll know in a day or two."