Charleston RiverDogs relievers Eric Ruth and Evan Rutckyj retired 14 consecutive batters late on Friday night, but that streak followed a strong start by the Savannah Sand Gnats in a 10-4 Savannah victory in front of 3,638 fans at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park in South Atlantic League action.
The RiverDogs are now 28-33 while the first-place Sand Gnats go to 39-19. Charleston and Savannah are tied at 1-1 in this four-game series.
Savannah infielder L.J. Mazzilli drove the Sand Gnats to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Jeff McNeil’s two-out single set up Mazzilli, who cleared the left field scoreboard with his seventh home run of the season.
Charleston worked from behind to tie the game at 2-2. The RiverDogs loaded the bases in the first inning and cut the difference to one run when Michael O’Neill scored on Mike Ford’s sacrifice fly. In the second, Eduardo de Oleo plated Jackson Valera on a game-tying single.
The Sand Gnats pounced on the RiverDogs for five straight runs that broke the tie. During the third, Dominic Smith’s run-scoring groundout drove in Gavin Cecchini for a 3-2 Sand Gnats lead. Amed Rosario opened the fourth with a solo home run, his first dinger of the year. Patrick Biondi and Jeff Glenn walked and both scored during a Cecchini single that was coupled with a fielding error. Cecchini scored after a double by McNeil to increase the lead to 7-2.
After McNeil’s double, Ruth closed the fourth inning with two strikeouts and set down the following six Sand Gnats to finish his home debut. Rutckyj, who was making his 2014 RiverDogs debut, retired all six batters that he faced and extended the collective streak to 14 straight Sand Gnats put out.
While the bullpen silenced Savannah, Charleston slowly chipped away at the lead. O’Neill brought in Dustin Fowler with a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth to bring the RiverDogs within four. A fifth-inning double by Valera allowed Miguel Andujar to score and trim the deficit to 7-4.
In the ninth inning, the Sand Gnats stretched their lead to 10-4. Glenn scored the inning’s first run on a fielding error. Champ Stuart came in when McNeil lined into a sacrifice fly against Giovanny Gallegos. Cecchini scored for the third time on a single from Jorge Rivero.
Dario Alvarez was scoreless in 2.1 innings of relief, earning the win and climbing to 4-0. Caleb Smith took the loss and is 4-5 with a career-high six runs allowed.
BALLPARK FUN: The RiverDogs hosted pregame recognition for local teenager Katie Stagliano, the creator of the popular Katie’s Krops garden initiative to fight hunger. Airman 1st Class Kyren Gantt shocked his family with a surprise homecoming from Korea and saw his five-month old son, Princeton, in person for the first time. Star Wars Night was also celebrated at Friday’s game with appearances from Darth Vader and the 501st Legion.
COMING UP: Game three of this four-game series will be at 6:05pm on Saturday as RiverDogs RHP Brady Lail (7-2, 3.53 ERA) squares off against Sand Gnats RHP John Gant (5-2, 2.67 ERA). South Carolina State University presents Larry Doby Heritage Weekend, which kicks off on Saturday with the Jackie Robinson Kansas City Monarchs Jersey Giveaway for the first 1,000 fans, courtesy of WCSC Channel 5. The 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars will also be honored before the game, and it is another Social Media Saturday as well. Tickets may be purchased at the Riley Park Box Office, (843) 577-DOGS (3647) or on-line at www.riverdogs.com. If fans cannot make it to the ballpark, they are encouraged to tune in to all the action this year both home and away worldwide on www.riverdogs.com and locally on 1250 WTMA, the new radio home for RiverDogs baseball.