COLUMBUS—For a couple seconds Saturday night, the second largest crowd of the season at Huntington Park didn’t know what to do. Columbus shortstop Gregorio Petit had just launched a towering drive down the left-field line, but the fans remained silent, as they, and many of the players and coaches, weren’t sure if the hit was fair or foul.
The 10,763 people in attendance erupted when third base umpire Will Little signaled that Petit’s knock had scraped the inside of the imaginary foul-ball line, giving the Clippers the lead, 4-3. The controversial homer turned out to be a game-winning one, as Columbus held on to win for the second-straight night.
Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh said he lost sight of Petit’s shot while it made it’s way over the foul post.
“I kind of lost it, for a bit, to be honest with you,” he said. “It looked like it was fair, but I’m not sure.”
What Sarbaugh was sure of was his team’s performance at the plate. Columbus continued to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-7, but had three home runs, and a timely double by Cord Phelps.
“I’m just happy with our at bats the past few nights. I thought we had been working some counts and done a nice job. We got some big hits tonight,” Sarbaugh said.
Early on, the Clippers were not having any success at the plate.
Charlotte right-hander Charles Shirek took a no-hit bid into the fourth, only to have it quickly ended when Phelps led off the inning with a double to center field.
Columbus couldn’t take advantage of the scoring opportunity, though. Chad Huffman, Jared Goedert, and Tim Fedroff were retired in order, stranding Phelps at second base and keeping Charlotte in the lead.
The Clippers got off to a good start in the bottom of the fifth inning, too. But this time, they didn’t have to rely on players hitting with runners in scoring position to tie the game.
Third baseman Andy LaRoche smacked a first-pitch fastball from Shirek into the left-field bleachers to start the inning.
Later in the fifth, Phelps came through with the big, clutch hit the Clippers had been looking for. With two outs and runners on first-and-second base, Phelps’ hit a double down the left-field line, scoring catcher Matt Pagnozzi to give Columbus the lead.
Sarbaugh said it was LaRoche’s hit that seemed to spark his team.
“I though that was big, helped our team get a little momentum on our side. He put a charge into it. (Shirek) had been throwing the ball really well, kept us off balance. Andy put a good swing into it,” he said.
Columbus right-hander Zach McAllister couldn’t hold the lead for very long. Neither could Shirek, however, after Charlotte took it back.
After giving up a run on a groundout in the second, McAllister allowed two runs in the sixth. A groundball to first by designated hitter Hector Gimenez plated left fielder Tyler Kuhn and a sacrifice fly to left field from catcher Josh Phegely gave the Knights the lead again.
McAllister (4-2) lasted seven innings, allowing three runs on six hits while striking out seven. With that performance, McAllister’s ERA is now below 3.00, and he has lengthened his streak of giving up three runs or less in a start with Columbus to six.
“I thought (McAllister) threw the ball well. He gave us seven solid innings,” Sarbaugh said, “He did a nice job.”
Columbus left fielder Tim Fedroff hit his first homer of the season with Columbus off the scoreboard in right-center field to tie it up, 3-3, in the sixth.
Following Petit’s homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, right-hander’s Frank Hermann and Chris Ray combined to throw two-scoreless innings to preserve the victory.
The Clippers and Knights will play game two of a four-game set Sunday night at 6:05 p.m.
Andrew Holleran is a third-year journalism student at The Ohio State University. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewjholleran or reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.