After tossing three hitless innings of relief, Terrance Hill headed back to the mound in the eighth inning for one last assignment -- to face left-hander David Meliah. It was the matchup manager Billy Gardner wanted.
The 23-year-old left-hander needed just one more out. Instead, he lasted just one more pitch.
Hill grooved a fastball up and in and, just like that, his impressive relief work and the GreenJackets lead vanished.
Soon after Meliah deposited the ill-fated pitch over the wall in right field for his first home run this season, the Jackets' four-game winning streak was also history in a 9-4 loss to the Savannah Sand Gnats.
"I felt I was pitching well and had the team right in there," Hill said after the home run opened the floodgates to a six-run eighth for the Sand Gnats. "I feel like I let myself down with that pitch and let the team down."
Meliah's blast tied the game 4-4, and the Jackets quickly came unglued defensively and literally handed Savannah the ballgame.
After reliever Matt Phillips took over for Hill, consecutive errors by third baseman T.J. James and catcher Andrew Larned -- making his Jackets debut -- and a one-out intentional walk to Corey Wright loaded the bases.
All-star Travis Hafner then delivered a grand slam off Phillips, his 11th home run, to ice it.
Gardner didn't second guess his decision to send Hill back out for a fourth inning of work.
"We wanted him to face the lefty (Meliah), and if I had it to do over again, I would have done the same thing," Gardner said. "His pitch count was low and you're hoping he can have success against that left-handed bat. The matchup, I thought, was in our favor. It just didn't work out."
Things didn't work out for starter Isauro Pineda, either. The 19-year-old right-hander, who joined the Jackets earlier this week after a demotion from high-Class A Sarasota, struggled in his Augusta debut. He was removed in the top of the fifth after the Gnats went up 3-2 on an RBI-double by Hafner.
But Hill came to the rescue and kept the Gnats at bay, enabling the Jackets to take the lead in the sixth on an RBI-single by James and an RBI-ground out by Larned.
The loss went to Phillips (1-3) after giving up five runs, all unearned, in one inning.
"It's frustrating to see something like that happen because that (Meliah's home run) was the only hit that I gave up," Hill said. "I was pretty happy with my outing. I just made one mistake and it cost us."
The Jackets' offensive resurgence continued with 10 hits, including two-hit nights for Larned, Cory Whitby and Keith Hart. Augusta now has 59 hits in its last five games, raising its team average from .231 to .240.
"Terrance did a good job for us and made just one mistake," Gardner said. "Then we make a couple of crucial mistakes defensively and (Phillips) kind of came unfocused after that and made a few bad pitches, and we let it get away from us."
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