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Pair of one-run games leads to series split

BIRMINGHAM – In a pair of tightly contested games, the Rocket City Trash Pandas rebounded after a 3-2 loss in the opener for an 8-7 win in extra innings to earn a split of their doubleheader with the Birmingham Barons on Sunday afternoon at Regions Field.

The victory by the Trash Pandas in the second game gave them a split of the six-game series in their first trip to Birmingham.

The Barons struck first in the opener on a leadoff home run from Romy Gonzalez against Trash Pandas starter Kyle Tyler. The Barons got a second run on an RBI single to center from Craig Dedelow. Birmingham looked to break the game open early as they loaded the bases with one out. But Tyler induced a double play ground out from JJ Muno to keep the deficit at two runs.

Tyler settled down after the first, working around two singles and a walk to get through the second unscathed. He retired the side in order in both the third and fourth to keep the deficit at two before another pair of Barons base runners were left on base in the fifth.

Rocket City finally broke through in the sixth as Torii Hunter Jr. reached on a one-out walk. Luis Aviles Jr. followed with an opposite-field two run home run that just stayed fair inside the right field foul pole to tie the game 2-2. The home run is Aviles’ eighth of the season.

In the bottom of the frame, Tyler again worked around a walk and a single to keep the game tied after six. In a quality start, Tyler gave up two runs on nine hits with three walks and six strikeouts over 6.0 innings.

But in the seventh, Micker Adolfo gave the Barons the 3-2 win on a walk-off homer to left off Rocket City reliever Oliver Ortega (L, 2-3).

In the second game, the Trash Pandas used the long ball to take an early lead on Michael Cruz’s sixth home run of the season, a solo shot 408 feet to center field in the top of the second.

Tyler Neslony tied the game for the Barons with a solo home run of his own in the third off Trash Pandas starter Cooper Criswell. Joel Booker gave Birmingham a 2-1 lead after four with an RBI double to center.

Rocket City got the runs back and more in the top of the fifth. Mitch Nay led off with a walk, Cruz singled, and Ray-Patrick Didder also walked to load the bases. Two hitters later, Aviles Jr. tied the game with a single to left. David MacKinnon then hit a slow ground ball on the infield and was thrown out at first, allowing Cruz to come home with the go-ahead run. Orlando Martinez capped the scoring with a double to the gap in right-center for a 5-2 Trash Pandas lead.

The teams traded runs to make it a 6-3 game going to the bottom of the sixth. Criswell left in line for a win after giving up three runs, two earned, on eight hits with one walk and seven strikeouts over 5.0 innings. But the Barons scored three runs off relievers Ryan Clark and Adrian Almeida to tie the game 6-6 after six.

Almeida and Nathan Bates combined to pitch a clean seventh, sending the game to extra innings.

In the eighth, the Trash Pandas rallied for a pair of runs without a hit. A wild pitch and a passed ball allowed Cruz to score the go-ahead run. Hunter Jr. then reached on a throwing error, allowing Didder to come home from second with a key insurance run.

Connor Higgins entered for the Trash Pandas in the bottom of the eighth and allowed the automatic runner to score on a ground out from Gonzalez. Higgins (S, 6) then ended the ballgame by striking out Jameson Fisher to give the Trash Pandas the thrilling victory and earn the save.

Bates (W, 3-0) earned the win by getting the final two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Cruz led the way at the plate by going 2-for-2 with a home run, two walks, and three runs scored while Martinez also drove in a pair in the series finale.

The Trash Pandas (31-33) return home to begin a six-game series with the Tennessee Smokies on Tuesday night. First pitch at Toyota Field is set for 6:35 p.m. Josh Caray will be on the call for 103.9 FM THE UMP and 730 AM SportsRadio. The game will also be televised locally on WAAY-31.6, This TV.

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