The Augusta GreenJackets aren't giving up on the first-half championship just yet.
Ryan Shaver was dominant in his third consecutive start and the GreenJackets received rare home runs from catcher Barry Gunther and infielder Kyle Haines en route to a 6-0 victory over the Rome Braves on Tuesday.
The once-a-season morning start at Lake Olmstead Stadium turned into an easy series-opening victory for Augusta (36-28), which pulled to within four games of slumping Rome (40-24) in the Southern Division with six remaining before the All-Star break.
"Absolutely, we can win this thing," said Gunther, who homered to right field in the second inning on an 0-2 pitch from Jairo Cuevas. "We've got three more here with (Rome), and if we play like we did today, we can do it."
GreenJackets manager Roberto Kelly admitted his team fouled away its best chance at catching Rome by losing twice to last-place Kannapolis on Saturday and Sunday.
But, he said, "It's not over yet."
"Obviously, (winning the first half) has got to be our goal," Kelly said. "The energy level was better today. I don't know if they realize now what's at stake or if playing the first-place team pumps them up more."
Augusta can cut its deficit to two with a pair of wins over Rome in today's doubleheader at Lake Olmstead Stadium, starting at 5 p.m. The series finale is Thursday, and Augusta visits Kannapolis for a three-game set starting Friday to wrap up the first half.
Behind Shaver's six-inning, five-hit shutout and Taylor Wilding's three innings of one-hit work, the GreenJackets beat Rome for the fourth time in their past five games. Three of those wins have been shutouts.
It was nothing new for Shaver, who hasn't allowed a run in his past 20w innings. The scoreless streak started two weeks ago when he threw the South Atlantic League's first complete-game shutout and continued in Augusta's 4-0 win at Rome last week.
"Lately, things have been going really well, " said Shaver, from Fairbanks, Alaska. "When you go out and get three great starts like that, and you're not giving up a lot of runs, it raises everybody's confidence."
Shaver walked none and struck our four, moving to 6-3 on the year and lowering his ERA to 2.16, fourth-best in the league.
"You don't expect them to throw 20-something shutout innings," Kelly said. "But Shaver's throwing a good sinker and has been getting a lot of ground balls. We're going to ride it as much as we can."
Haines yanked an inside fastball from Cuevas over the right-field wall in the fifth for a two-run shot, his first home run this season and second of his pro career.
"You basically never expect something like that to happen from a guy like me, because it's not part of my game," Haines said. "Every now and then, you get lucky and get a pitch up. It's not something I try to do, so it's kind of an added bonus when I do."
Gunther, who has taken his fair share of bumps and bruises the past two games, went 2-for-3. He homered for just the second time this year.
"That's the price you pay for the position," Gunther said of his behind-the-plate adventures. "Sometimes, you take a foul ball off your arm or something, and it can fire you up a little bit."
Rome pitchers walked Antoan Richardson, Augusta's No. 9 hitter, three times, and he scored runs in the third and seventh innings.
The Braves, who led Augusta by 71 games at the start of June, have lost eight of 11.
Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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