Originally created 08/18/00

Jackets post second shutout in row



At the plate, they have scored 21 runs, mashed 20 hits, belted six home runs the past three nights.

On the mound, they have completely shut the door on the Hagerstown Suns, holding them to one run and 13 hits through the first three games of the four-game series.

But in the standings, the Augusta GreenJackets remain in a holding pattern.

Despite an impressive start to their eight-game homestand, which continued Thursday with an 8-0 win over the Suns, the Jackets have gained just one game on the first-place Savannah Sand Gnats in the race for the Southern Division second-half title.

"Things are going great for us right now, and that's really all we can do," Jackets manager Mike Boulanger said. "All we can do is take care of our job, and no matter what happens, we'll be able to say we did everything we could."

With another convincing victory, led by Carlos Rodriguez' sizzling bat and four pitchers combining on a second straight shutout, the Jackets (32-21) have won eight of their past nine games and 11 of their past 17 to challenge for the second-half title.

But the Sand Gnats (33-19) refuse to give in, and Thursday's win on the road over Greensboro was their 15th in their past 18 games, as they maintain their 1'-game lead over the Jackets. Both clubs have 17 games remaining.

"We're doing everything we can right now," said Jackets closer B.J. Leach, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning in a non-save situation, which leaves him atop the SAL in saves at 34. "Everything's coming together. We're getting great pitching and the offense is scoring a lot of runs. We've just got to keep it up."

Rodriguez belted a grand slam in the fifth inning off Hagerstown starter Ryan Houston -- his third home run in the past two games and 16th of the season -- to turn a 2-0 game into a rout.

The 23-year-old right fielder is second in the SAL with 85 RBI, and is batting .400 with four home runs and 20 RBI in August.

Catcher Kelly Ramos went 2-for-4 with a double and his sixth home run, a two-run shot in the second inning.

Starter Jerome Gamble (4-3) gave the Jackets five shutout innings to get the victory before wilting in the heat. He allowed just three hits and walked four batters, and clearly was fatigued by the end of his outing.

"Jerome was outstanding tonight, but he just ran out of gas," Boulanger said. "These past couple of days have been the hottest it's been, I think, and it took its toll on him."

But for a third straight night, the Jackets bullpen picked up the slack. In the first three games of the series, Augusta relievers have combined to pitch 10 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just three hits while striking out 12 batters.

Overall in the series, the Jackets have not allowed an earned run, surrendering 13 hits and striking out 28 strikeouts.

On Thursday, the club's two recent independent-league signees -- right-handers Rodney Dickinson and Ian Harvey -- continued to impress out of the pen.

Dickinson, a native of Fairburn, Ga., took over in the sixth and allowed one hit in two innings with two strikeouts. The 25-year-old has allowed just one run and 11 hits while striking out 21 batters in 15 2/3 innings since joining the club.

Harvey, who struggled in his past outing in Columbia over the weekend, pitched a scoreless eighth inning with one strikeout before handing it over to Leach in the ninth.

"I was brought here to help out a bullpen, so whenever they call on me, I try to get outs," said Dickinson, a former Atlanta Braves farmhand who was pitching for the independent St. Paul Saints before signing with the Red Sox last month.

"I try not to walk guys and try to throw strikes and let my defense work for me. I've been throwing the ball pretty well, so right now I'm happy with the way things are going. I'm happy to be part of the Red Sox organization."

NOTES:

Center fielder Lew Ford, who entered the game leading Hickory's J.R. House .333 to .330 in the race for the SAL batting title, went 0-for-5 to drop to .330. Ford, who reached on a fielder's choice in the fifth inning, stole his 50th base of the season, becoming only the fourth player in Augusta franchise history to reach that milestone. The others to reach 50 are Tony Womack (1989), Derek Swafford (1995) and Victor Gutierrez (1997).

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com