BRADENTON -- During the past three weeks the Marauders have tumbled from respectability even as the Stone Crabs ran away with the Florida State League's South Division to the cellar. Since May 26, Bradenton has won only eight games and a .500 ballclub has vanished with a last-place team taking its place.
Largely, the Marauders have been tightroping their way through one- and two-run games and too often tumbling to a narrow loss. Their 7-5 loss on Wednesday, the 14th in 22 games, was their 11th decided by two runs or fewer since this skid began. The Yankees jumped on Luis Heredia early -- Tyler Wade launched the fifth pitch of the game out of McKechnie Field for a two-run home run -- and busted open a seven-run lead by the midpoint of the fourth inning, leaving the Marauders with too large a deficit to overcome in the penultimate game of the season's first half.
The Pirates' Class A Advanced affiliate will play their final game before the All-Star break Thursday against Tampa.
"Sure, it's frustrating, but we're in every game," manager Michael Ryan said. "That being said: When you're in every game it's usually one or two things that cost you when you have so many close games."
Wade jumped on a fastball for a first-inning home run to quickly put the Yankees (32-34) up 2-0 after the first inning. In the second, outfielder Mark Payton led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly. In the third, New York's FSL team smacked four consecutive two-out hits -- capped with a double by left fielder Ericson Leonora off Harold Ramirez's glove in right -- to add three more. And in the fourth, a walk and stolen base for second baseman Abiatal Avelino turned into the Yankees' final run when third baseman Miguel Andujar launched an RBI double off the wall in left-center field.
Wednesday was Heredia's seventh start of the year and a major reason for his absolute lack of wins is that he has yet to make it through the five innings required for a starting pitcher to earn a victory. His seventh outing of the season was also his longest and one of his roughest. Aside from the five earned runs he allowed in less than an inning during his season debut, Heredia's seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings marked the first time he left a game with more than two runs on the scoreboard for his opponent.
"I threw a lot of fastballs and they were attacking a lot of fastballs," Heredia said.
"That's what I learned today. Next time just change every inning. We learn something every game we have like that. It was the worst I've ever had."
Even with a nearly flawless 4 1/3 frames from the bullpen - a single off relief pitcher Isaac Sanchez in the eighth inning was Tampa's only hit after Heredia (0-2) left the game - Bradenton (30-36) was in too large of a hole after Heredia's start to seriously threaten the Yankees' lead. In the fifth inning, shortstop JaCoby Jones took Tampa starter Jordan Montgomery (1-1) deep to left for a three-run home run and the Marauders' only runs until the eighth inning.
Bradenton fell short during the second game of this four-game series Tuesday despite outhitting the Yankees by five. The Marauders outhit Tampa 13-10 in Game 3, but once again they left chances on the bases. Bradenton put a runner aboard in every inning Wednesday, left 12 on base, stranded seven in scoring position and even got the winning run to the plate during the bottom of the ninth.
And then third baseman Wyatt Mathisen did what most other Marauders did when there was a runner nearing home--he lumbered to the dugout, this time after a game-ending groundout to first base meant those of the 622 who stuck around saw Bradenton's second straight loss.
"That's the frustration part of it," Ryan said. "They showed great fight, didn't give up and they're gonna be in every game."