BRADENTON -- The first half of the season, and particularly the past month or so, has been grind for the Marauders, testing their patience in the face of frustration and the piling narrow losses, blown leads and bullpen debacles.
Thursday's game against the Yankees, the last one before the All-Star break, lasted 17 innings, took four hours and 46 minutes, saw position players pitch for both teams and finally -- mercifully -- ending with a 5-4 loss for the Marauders in front of 849 tired fans at McKechnie Field. The game featured a blown lead by the bullpen, missed opportunities by Bradenton and, more than anything else, was very, very long.
"This game's weird, man," manager Michael Ryan said. "Usually before an All-Star break you go extra innings or you have a long rain delay or a tough travel day or something crazy."
Chris Diaz, a utility infielder, took the loss for the Marauders after he served up a 17th-inning solo home run to Wes Wilson, who also pitched two hitless innings to earn the victory. Wilson (1-0), a catcher by trade, still
has more wins than home runs in his career -- the go-ahead blast was the first homer of his career. As a pitcher, he is 2-1 in three career appearances.
"He deserved it," Ryan said, laughing. "Caught 15 innings and then pitched two and hits a homer."
The Pirates' Class A Advanced affiliate enters the break on a three game losing streak and has lost 15 of its last 23 games.
Until Diaz (0-1) surrendered the winning run -- a clear departure from script -- Bradenton's narrow loss followed the same format so many have during the first 67 games of the year have. Offense kept the Marauders (30-37) afloat -- Bradenton has the best batting average in the Florida State League -- before shaky starting pitching and a slip-up from the bullpen let the opponent sneak ahead.
New York's FSL team erased the Marauders' three-run lead with a two-run fourth inning and evened the score on Michael O'Neill's lead-off homer in the fifth.
The score was 3-3 at the start of the ninth and Miguel Rosario was beginning his third inning of relief work. O'Neill led off for the Yankees (33-34) with a single to center. Rosario got the next two outs and was pitches away from giving his team a chance to walk off. Instead, shortstop Abiatal Avelino lined a single into right field and O'Neill dashed home for the go-ahead run.
Bradenton answered when a single, groundout and another single brought outfielder Harold Ramirez home in the ninth, but that only set up more heartbreak.
After JaCoby Jones belted a three-run home run Wednesday, Ryan predicted his shortstop was about to catch fire. His power drought had finally ended and Jones was up to fifth in the league in homers. With one out in the 10th inning, he ripped a line drive down the third base line for an easy double.
Outfielder Barrett Barnes came to a plate with a chance to win the game and tapped a grounder to third. Miguel Andujar charged in and fired across the diamond to retire Barnes. Meanwhile, Jones turned past third with an eye on home.
Tampa first baseman Dante Bichette Jr. quickly realized what Jones was doing and slung the ball home to Wilson. Jones slid and the catcher laid down the tag to end the 10th inning.
"We're just trying to get something going," Ryan said. "We always stress to the guys to err on the side of aggressiveness and that's what he was doing.
"If Bichette throws it away or he's not paying attention, the game's over and it's a great play."
Three innings later, Jones was called out on strikes on an inside pitch and lingered near home plate umpire Derek Gonzalez for a bit. Between innings, Ryan confronted Gonzalez and the ump tossed him for the second time in three games.
These days, it seems that's par for the course at McKechnie, too.