On a team that entered the week with the worst batting average in the South Atlantic League, Shawn Payne has been the exception.
The Augusta GreenJackets left fielder stood out again Thursday night, driving in five runs with a 3-for-5 effort that included a game-breaking, two-out grand slam in a six-run sixth inning. The home run, Payne’s second of the year, highlighted a 9-2 win over the Greenville Drive that saw all nine GreenJackets reach base.
“It’s a contagious thing. Hitting’s contagious,” Payne said. “All it takes is one guy to start doing it, and then the others do the same thing. That’s what happened, and when you have the bases loaded, you have to take advantage because you don’t get many opportunities like that.”
Payne also singled in a run with one out in the fifth and elevated his team-leading batting average to .338. The Middle Georgia College product set a career high with five RBI and notched his first pro grand slam.
“He has been the clutch guy in key situations,” manager Lipso Nava said. “Not taking anything away from the other guys, but his awareness in the strike zone is good. He knows what he’s doing there.”
The victory came in the opener of an eight-game homestand and gave Augusta (15-16) its third win in four games. Starter Clayton Blackburn gave up two runs in his final inning of work for a no decision after allowing six hits and striking out eight over five innings.
Reliever Derek Law (2-0) got the win with two scoreless innings. Steven Neff and Cody Hall each allowed one hit in an inning of work.
A walk and three singles gave Greenville (14-18) a 2-0 lead in the fifth, but the GreenJackets responded immediately when two walks and a Kelby Tomlinson bunt single loaded the bases for Payne in the bottom of the inning. His single to right field scored John Eshleman from third. Carlos Willoughby also scored on the play after the ball slipped under the glove of right fielder Henry Ramos.
Augusta sent 10 batters to the plate in the sixth inning. Michael Mergenthaler reached on a throwing error from second baseman Bryan Johns, and Brett Krill and Kelby Tomlinson walked to load the bases. Jose Cuevas took a fastball to the ribs with two outs to give the GreenJackets a 3-2 lead, and Payne followed with his grand slam.
Jeff Arnold, back in a GreenJackets uniform for the first time this season after spending all of 2011 in Augusta, capped the sixth with an RBI double and later scored in the eighth on Mergenthaler’s two-out double.
Greenville’s Matty Ott (3-2) came in to bail out starter Jason Garcia in the fifth by inducing a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play. But Ott took the loss by giving up six unearned runs on three hits, two walks and two costly errors in the sixth.