RailRiders Split Pair Against Indianapolis
MOOSIC — For nearly three hours Wednesday night, the RailRiders sloughed through the humidity, pitchers struggling to find command, hitters looking desperately for a rhythm. All the while, Indianapolis hitters kept grinding, at-bat after at-bat, inning after inning.
By the time the first seven-inning game of the night ended just before 8 p.m., the RailRiders already had been saddled with a lackluster 7-3 loss, outworked by top Pirates pitching prospect Mitch Keller but mostly overwhelmed by their own staff’s inability to find the strike zone or put away Indianapolis’ pesky hitters when they could.
Luckily for the RailRiders, though, they got a do-over.
Nestor Cortes pitched a crisp complete-game four-hitter, and Tyler Wade homered to seal a 3-1 win in the nightcap that gave the RailRiders a split of the doubleheader and win of the three-game series against the International League West Division’s leader at PNC Field.
After Justus Sheffield and the RailRiders’ bullpen struggled in the first game — they combined to issue 12 walks in seven innings, easily the team’s worst total of the season — Cortes gave the RailRiders exactly what they needed.
“For the past week, the bullpen has been getting hit, so it was only right for me to try and go deep into the game,” Cortes said. “I’m glad I did it, and we got the W, which is the most important thing.”
Working quickly and pounding the strike zone, he retired the last seven batters he faced, and three of the four hits he allowed came with two outs already recorded in a given inning. The only run Indianapolis managed against him came on Wyatt Mathisen’s solo homer to left with one out in the fourth, but some slick defense in the next inning may have saved both the lead and Cortes’ effort.
After Erich Weiss legged out a two-out triple in the fifth, speedy leadoff man Pablo Reyes hit a high chopper to third. Veteran Giovanny Urshela charged, fielded the ball on a short hop, and sidearmed the ball to first base on the run to nab Reyes and end the threat.
“He’s a really good third baseman,” Mitchell said. “He has great hands, great instincts on where to go. He charged that ball nice, because that’s not an easy play obviously on a guy, charging the ball on a guy who runs decent, then short-hopping it and making the throw. But it looks like he has done it before. He’s solid.”
No other runners reached against Cortes, and that helped the RailRiders’ third-inning surge against rehabbing right-hander Nick Burdi stand.
Wilkin Castillo led off the third with a single, and with one out, youngster Ricky Surum ripped his first Triple-A hit, a line drive double to left that put runners on second and third. Castillo scored on a wild pitch to put the RailRiders on the board and then, on the next offering from Burdi, catcher Jackson Williams couldn’t corral a fastball, which went to the screen allowing Surum to sprint home for a 2-0 edge.
“I got a fastball, I was on time for it and the rest handled itself,” said Surum, the backup infielder who received his first Triple-A promotion on Tuesday. “Just looking for a fastball I could do damage with. That’s it.”
Wade launched a one-out homer in the fifth against another rehabbing right-hander, A.J. Schugel, to give the RailRiders an all-important third run that made the rest of the night more comfortable for Cortes.
It was never quite that way earlier in the night for the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, however.
In his much hoped-for matchup against Keller, Sheffield struggled from the outset. He allowed four hits and walked five, getting just five outs. Indy battered him for four runs in the second inning, the big hit being Jose Osuna’s two-out RBI single through the box. Three of the four runners who scored reached base via a walk.
“I just got away from doing the stuff I’ve been working on,” Sheffield said. “That’s what it boils down to. Lack of focus, going out there trying to overcompensate, trying to be too fine. It was awful. I didn’t even give my team a chance to win. I completely took that loss. I deserved it.”