Freshly cut grass, perfectly groomed dirt and the fumes of a full grill justified the sense of Opening Day for the Roanoke Valley. Not just that though: the bright lights, the cool breeze and the congested concourse created an environment exhilarating enough to make the home crowd erupt just before the first pitch.
But, that wouldn’t be the first eruption from the fans, or the second one, or even the third one for that matter.
“This is the only professional team in this area so it’s always good to give the fans something to look forward to and show them that we take this serious,” explained Matty Johnson. “I think it’s great that they get involved and we come out and play hard for them and it’s starting to click and we really kind of help each other out.”
So, what’s all the hype about, you ask?
Plain and simple…the Salem Red Sox hitters!
It started early and often from the only Red Sox returner who played in every playoff game in 2013. Current right fielder, Matty Johnson, crushed a ball that popped off the top of the wall, hit the scoreboard and landed out of the park, giving Salem a three run lead in just the second inning. Johnson’s two-run homer followed an RBI, base knock from the UVA-product and current second basemen, Reed Gragnani, who is atop of the 2014 hit column for Salem.
And again, another surge of exhilaration from the home crowd!
This time it was caused by the Red Sox center fielder, Aneury Tavarez who destroyed a pitch from Mike Recchia out of the park and unintentionally did Recchia a favor by sending him to the bench to avoid any more damage from the red-hot hitters of Salem. The homerun was a three-run shot that brought home Matt Gedman and Mario Martinez, stretching the margin to five runs in favor of Salem.
Guess what? Yes, ANOTHER eruption of excitement from those 3,513 in attendance.
And how could they not? The 6-foot-5 inch, 270-pound beast batting in the cleanup spot, David Chester, pounded a two-run triple that stretched the Salem lead back to five after Winston-Salem earned two runs following the previous homerun from Tavarez.
The Dash of Winston-Salem refused to surrender without a battle in what seemed to be a sea-saw of runs scored well through the eighth inning.
For the Dash in the third inning, Courtney Hawkins recorded an RBI single to break the goose egg on the scoreboard. The next two innings, Winston-Salem was able to notch two runs per inning and then didn’t score again until they lit up both the seventh and eighth frames with three runs apiece. It was Hawkins again coming up big in the eighth with a three-run homerun bomb that pulled the Dash within just one run of Salem heading to the ninth.
“I knew after the second or third inning, I knew it was going to a game like that (back-and-forth) so I was just focused on finding ways to score runs and limit the damage,” explained Johnson.
But fortunately for Salem, it just wasn’t enough for the Dash to draw even or take the lead at any point in the night.
And though you can only score on offense in baseball, the defense of the Red Sox was able to lock in and take care of business despite more than a couple of quality scoring opportunities from Winston-Salem.
“I once was told if you’re not getting hits try to take hits away from other people so that’s my approach when I go out on the field,” said left fielder, Jonathan Roof. “If I’m not getting hits I’m going to do everything I can to take away a hit from someone else so when we put up runs you’ve got to go out there and play defense no matter what.”
And the Sox did just that.
It was the ace, LHP Brian Johnson who was dealing some really good stuff to start for the Sox. Despite being pulled halfway through the fifth frame, Johnson gave up just three runs and recorded eight strikeouts on 84 pitches. RHP Kyle Martin, who came in during the fifth after Johnson, retired the side and ended the jam. Martin was also able to notch five strikeouts on the mound in his first win of the 2014 campaign.
Coming in to close out the game for the Sox on defense was RHP Kyle Stroup. Though Stroup gave up a leadoff walk to begin the ninth inning, he was able to record a strikeout and then relied heavily on the Salem defense (again). The Sox were able to escape unbeaten and record their 16th straight win in what was an edgy, 12-11 bout.
The Sox will look to remain perfect and make Carolina League history with a 17-game win streak tomorrow night against the Dash at 7:05. Stay tuned with the Salem Sox Insider blog for more inside stories and interviews with the Salem Red Sox all season long!