Jeter Downs of the Dragons was enjoying the game minor-leaguers dream about against visiting Lake County on Thursday night. And then the ninth inning.
Downs, already suspect in the field with a variety of errors in previous games, made his most costly in the top of the ninth. There were two runners on with two outs and a pop fly waiting to be caught by him to clinch the Dragons’ fifth straight win.
Instead, the ball popped out. Both runs scored to knot the shootout at 9-all.
Downs took a lonely walk through the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse and gathered himself, alone.
“I just had to get past that and get over it and focus at the plate and get the job done,” he said. “I let the team down.”
And then it happened. Catcher Hendrick Clementina, quickly becoming a fan favorite, roped a one-out single. Narciso Crook, one of six players to launch home runs – all by the fourth inning – coaxed a walk.
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As early season baseball fate would have it, that brought to the plate Downs. Ten minutes after turning goat, he transformed to hero with a shot to right-center that scored speedy Hector Vargas, pinch running for the lumbering Clementina.
By the time Downs rounded first base, all of the Dragons were in full gallop to intercept him. They danced and jumped in unison. There were back-slaps and triumphant yells. Outfielder Miles Gordon handed Jeter back his jersey, which had been pulled off by the celebrating mob.
“That was the greatest feeling in the world,” said a relieved Downs, who had four hits, including a solo homer on the second pitch he saw. “Just being able to enjoy those guys and get the win.”
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Who cares if it’s early April of a six-month season? It’s finally warm – a balmy high 60s – and the Dragons (5-3) are on a five-game Midwest League win streak. That’s good low Class A minor-league baseball stuff.
“I’m happy for him,” Dragons manager Luis Bolivar said. “Hopefully, that helps him out and boosts his confidence back up. He stayed focused and did his job. I’m really proud of him.”
The Captains (4-4) tagged Dragons starter Tyler Mondile for three homers and a 3-0 lead in the first inning. The wind blowing out, four more dingers cleared the outfield wall by the fourth, including a two-run shots by Crook and Dragons outfielder Stuart Fairchild.
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Downs and Clementina each had four hits and combined for five RBIs. The Dragons had just three four-hit games all last season. It also was the first time two Dragons had four hits in the same game since July 2016.
Dragons reliever Austin Orewiler (1-0) pitched the ninth and earned the win, despite allowing those two unearned runs.
Dayton swept the four-game series and begins a brief three-game road trip against Great Lakes at Midland, Mich., on Friday.
“The guys are playing well now, and the pitching staff is doing an awesome job,” Bolivar said. “We’re getting timely hitting and that’s crucial for us. Hopefully, they keep rolling through the whole year like that.”
Dragons tales: Here’s why Clementina, acquired in a trade with the Dodgers last year, is a fan favorite. Through Thursday he was 8 for 16 batting (.500) with two home runs and three doubles.
• Dragons pitcher Wendolyn Bautista gets start at Great Lakes on Friday and No. 1 draft pick Hunter Greene will go on Saturday. Following a final game on Sunday, the Dragons will be off Monday and open a three-game home stand against the visiting South Bend Cubs on Tuesday.