BRADENTON -- For more than four hours and 14 full innings, the Marauders' pitching staff was suffocating. The mistakes were few and when the rare couple did come Bradenton almost always found a way out.
That was all until the 15th frame of the Marauders' first extra-inning game of the year. It started when Andy Otamendi, by then in his fourth inning of relief, charged at a soft-rolling ball trickling to the mound and ran right over it for a lead-off error. It got worse when he gave up a double and triple to the next two batters, dooming Bradenton to a 6-3 loss against the last-place Miracle.
"They did a good job of taking advantage," manager Michael Ryan said. "Show me a box score that a team has five errors and they won and I'll be shocked."
Tuesday at McKechnie Field, however, was one of
the rare occasions when the Marauders stayed afloat because of their pitching. Bradenton (13-13) has one of the most potent offenses in the Florida State League, leading the South division in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and runs. It's the primary reason the Marauders are only three games behind the Stone Crabs for first place. In the opening frame, Bradenton seemed poise to deliver the blowout it had the potential for.
Outfielder Barrett Barnes, the No. 2 hitter for the Pirates' Class A Advanced affiliate, belted a one-out double down the left field line. After a steal, Barnes came home on a fielder's choice. Shortstop JaCoby Jones, who drove in Barnes, proceeded to steal second and score on a single by second baseman Erich Weiss.
The first-inning rally ended there, though. Outfielder Jose Osuna flew out to left to end the frame. The Marauders didn't score for the next nine innings.
Even though Bradenton blew the two-run lead, its pitching was on the whole spectacular.
"We just try to go out and do the best we can and hold us to a winning lead," Marauders starting pitcher Coody Dickson said.
Fort Myers (10-16) got the first run back in the top of the second, an unearned tally because of a one-out error by third baseman Chris Diaz. Two innings later, the Miracle got its only earned run of regulation on a trio of singles by outfielder Chad Christensen, first baseman Bryan Haar and catcher Mitch Garver.
The next six and a half innings were dominated by pitching, and primarily the two teams' bullpens. Marauders starting pitcher Cody Dickson lasted five innings while allowing six hits and Fort Myers starter Aaron Slegers countered with seven frames of six-hit ball.
"When he was getting his off-speed over he was effective and then when he couldn't he was trying to do a little bit too much," Ryan said of Dickson. "But he battled through it and I thought he threw well. He kept us in the game."
In the 11th, the Miracle finally jumped ahead for the first time. Ryan Hafner, who pitched a perfect 10th inning in relief for Bradenton, walked Garver to start the second. Third baseman Tanner Vavra replaced Garver as a pinch runner and Fort Myers put on the hit and run. Second baseman Aderling Mejia looped a single into right and Vavra dashed all the way to third. Two batters later, outfielder Zach Granite ripped a line drive at Michael Fransoso in center for a go-ahead sacrifice fly.
But Miracle relief pitcher Brandon Peterson brought the blown save all upon himself. He walked Reese McGuire with one out and let him reach second with a wild pitch. From second base, the Marauders catcher timed up Peterson and bolted for third without a throw. Another wild pitch let him dart home to force a 12th inning.
Four innings later, the Marauders trailed by three and McGuire came to the plate as the tying run with no outs. He popped out into foul territory. Then Weiss and Osuna struck out to leave Bradenton with a loss in the first half of a two-game homestand.
"What, it was a five-hour game?" Dickson said. "It's the first and I'm sure there will be many more to come.