Originally created 05/11/05

Augusta difficult to reel in



The Augusta GreenJackets have been nearly impossible to beat this season when they go into the eighth inning with a lead.

Fourteen of their 20 wins have come when they led after seven innings and only one of their 12 losses has been the result of a late-inning collapse. That's not to say the GreenJackets always cruise through the eighth and ninth innings when they've had a lead.

The GreenJackets have blown an eighth-inning lead four times and once they pulled ahead by a run in the top of the ninth only to give up the tying run in the bottom of the inning. In all but one of those games - a 5-3 loss to Charleston in Game 2 of the season - the GreenJackets have rallied for the win.

That includes Monday's series opener against the Rome Braves. Augusta led Rome 5-2 going into the eighth inning. The Braves rallied to tie the game, though, with the help of an Augusta error and the GreenJackets went into the bottom of the ninth with the game tied. Augusta sent only two batters to the plate in the inning and neither recorded an at bat before the GreenJackets scored to win the game.

Augusta first baseman Jason Columbus, who drew a leadoff walk, scored from first on a botched pickoff attempt that featured two errors with pinch hitter Steve Holm at bat.

"That's just what this team is doing right now," Columbus said after the game. "Guys are picking other guys up."

Monday's game was the fifth time Augusta has won with a ninth-inning rally, and the GreenJackets are 2-0 in extra-inning games.

LUCK FAVORS GREENJACKETS: Columbus said it was lucky he made it all the way around from first base to score the winning run Monday night. He and his teammates have had a lot of luck on their side recently, and it's come mostly in the form of costly errors made by their opponents.

The GreenJackets have won three times in the past week in the ninth inning or later with the help from the other team. First came Thursday's game against the Columbus Catfish when an eighth-inning error gave the GreenJackets a chance to score the tying run. They later won the game in the 10th on a throwing error by the Catfish.

The next night, Augusta's luck came in the 12th inning. Columbus reached on a fielding error and eventually scored the go-ahead run. The Catfish committed another error - an attempted sacrifice bunt - that allowed a second Augusta run to score. The GreenJackets wound up with a 6-3 win.

Monday's victory wrapped up the week's fortunate events.

SPEED DEMONS: The top two batters in Augusta's lineup also happen to be the top two base stealers in the minor leagues.

Through Monday, shortstop Marcus Sanders, who usually bats second, leads all of the minor leagues with 19 stolen bases - and he's only been caught once. Leadoff hitter Alex Requena is tied for second with 18 steals. The duo account for 75 percent of the GreenJackets 49 steals, while no other player has more than three.

"You've got to give those guys all the credit in the world, because they're the reason guys are looking very successful," Columbus said.

Sanders and Requena have scored a combined 51 runs - about 35 percent of the GreenJackets' total.

Augusta is second in the South Atlantic League behind the Hagerstown Suns (52 steals), but the GreenJackets have been caught eight fewer times than the Suns.

INJURED LIST: The GreenJackets announced Monday that Craig Whitaker, who was the 34th overall pick in the 2003 draft, is going on the disabled list. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 7.32 ERA in 19w innings. He's struck out 31, while walking 16.

The San Francisco Giants sent right-hander Ben Thurmond down from high-A San Jose to fill Whitaker's roster spot. Thurmond went 4-6 with a 2.54 ERA for Hagerstown - the Giants' low-A affiliate last season. This year, he is 2-3 with a 6.64 ERA.

- As of Monday, right fielder Brian Horwitz - the GreenJackets' leader in batting average and RBI - was still on the injured list, but manager Roberto Kelly said Horwitz's injured shoulder is feeling better, he's just waiting on medical clearance.

Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3216 or kristy.shonka@augustachronicle.com.