At a time when the GreenJackets offense has been faltering in the clutch, it seemed highly unlikely they would buck that trend with Capital City's top reliever on the mound.
But Chris Warren and Rudy Pena delivered with back-to-back hits in the sixth inning, as the Jackets rallied for a 4-2 victory over the Bombers in Game 1 of a doubleheader Friday night, snapping a three-game losing streak before 3,449 fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
The Jackets again threatened to rally from a 4-1 deficit in the sixth inning of Game 2 after Carlos Rodriguez belted his third home run of the season to cut the lead to two.
But after Warren singled and Javier Fuentes walked to put runners on first and second with one out, reliever Todd Bellhorn took over for starter Yon German and silenced the threat.
Bellhorn sturck out Pena looking and retired Jeff Keaveney on a grounder to short, and the Bombers held on for a 4-2 victory and the doubleheader split.
In Game 1, Warren tied it 2-2 with a two-run single to left field off Bombers closer Heath Bell.
And with a little help from Bombers right fielder Robert Stratton, Pena followed with a double to right field to drive in Warren with the go-ahead run.
Stratton initially broke in on Pena's fly ball, then couldn't recover as he raced toward the right-field corner to try to track it down.
Had Stratton made the catch, Warren would have been doubled off easily at second base, and might have been a goat
instead of a hero.
The Augusta left fielder, who one pitch earlier moved up to second base on a balk, thought there were two outs in the inning, and was rounding third when Pena's fly ball dropped just inches past Stratton's outstretched glove.
The Jackets (11-16), who have lost eight of their last 11 games, will take the breaks as they come. Especially against the Bombers (21-8), who hold a comfortable lead in the Central Division and boast the best record in the South Atlantic League.
Before the four-run sixth inning in Game 1, the Jackets were fortunate to be trailing only 2-0 after starter Josh Hancock struggled with his control.
The 21-year-old right-hander gave up just one earned run on three hits, but he walked six in four innings.
Reliever Matt Phillips (1-1) fared much better, holding the league's top-hitting club to one hit and one walk in two innings to record his first victory.
Closer Mark Cisar turned in another strong performance, sending the Bombers down 1-2-3 in the seventh to record his fifth save.
The hard-throwing Bell (0-1), who took over for starter Jason Saenz in the sixth inning and entered the game 6-for-6 in save opportunities with an 0.73 ERA, allowed two runs on four hits in 1/3 innings to take the loss.
For Pena, it was also a good night behind the plate. Along with the game-winning RBI, the 20-year-old Jackets catcher and nephew of former major leaguer Tony Pena also gunned down a pair of Bombers baserunners attempting to steal.
Vs.: Savannah Sand Gnats (Rangers)
Where: Lake Olmstead Stadium
When: 7:05 p.m.
Starters: Savannah -- TBA; Augusta -- RHP Justin Duchscherer (3-0, 0.26 ERA).
Upcoming: The eight-game homestand concludes Sunday vs. Savannah. The Jackets begin a five-game road trip Monday with three games vs. Macon before facing Piedmont for a pair.
Tickets: Available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Jackets offices on Milledge Road or at stadium box office on game days. For more information, call 736-7889.
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