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June 17, 2021 at 7:00 AM

Cup of Coffee: Yorke keys Salem; Howlett walks off wild Drive comeback


6/17 Cup of Coffee:
It was an evening of comeback victories and stellar bullpen efforts, as the affiliates took three out of four on Wednesday. Of the 14 pitchers who threw in relief, only one gave up so much as a run, with the crew combining to surrender just two across 21 2/3 innings. That work enabled three comeback victories, none more unlikely than Greenville's rally from a 5-0 deficit in the bottom of the ninth to extend its winning streak to six games. Portland went to extra innings to complete its win, while Nick Yorke (pictured) and Jaxx Groshans both reached base four times in the Salem victory. Worcester was the only team in the system to fall, snapping a week-long winning streak.

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The WooSox winning streak came to an end at seven games on a tough evening at Polar Park. Daniel Gossett saw his night spoiled with a five-run fifth inning. Overall, the right-hander surrendered six runs on eight hits in 4 1/3. Brandon Brennan made his return to Worcester after being outrighted earlier in the day, striking out two and allowing one hit in a scoreless inning. A two-run eighth-inning rally spoiled the shutout bid. Johan Mieses had two of the six Worcester hits. Top prospects Jarren Duran and Jeter Downs combined to go 0 for 9 in the loss. 

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It was a less dramatic comeback than the effort in Greenville, but Portland rallied for single runs in the ninth and tenth innings to steal one from Binghamton. Starter Josh Winckowski had a rare ineffective outing, allowing four runs on six hits in three innings, striking out and walking two apiece. Matt Kent fired four innings of shutout relief, scattering three hits and striking out three without walking a batter. Durbin Feltman struck out four in two scoreless innings, and Dominic LoBrutto induced a game-ending double play in the bottom of the 10th for the save. Tate Matheny was the offensive star for Portland, going 3 for 4 with a home run, walk, and three RBI. It was Matheny who drove in the game-winning run with a double in the 10th. Ryan Fitzgerald was responsible for knotting the game at four in the ninth with a solo homer. 

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It was a wild, improbable comeback for the Drive, as they entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-0 and scored six runs to the delight of the Fluor Field faithful. Brandon Howlett encapsulated the night perfectly for the Drive. The hot-hitting third baseman had been silenced by Hickory pitching, going 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. He then bookended the rally, plating Tyler Esplin with a base hit for the first Drive run and then working a six-pitch bases-loaded walk nearly 30 minutes later. Christian Koss doubled as part of a two-hit night, while Luke Bandy broke an 0-for-30 skid with a pair of hits.

Brian Van Belle allowed five runs on seven hits, including a pair of homers, in his four innings of work. Yusniel Padron-Artiles was outstanding in a piggyback role, giving up just two hits in three scoreless frames. Brendan Cellucci and Zach Bryant added a scoreless inning apiece, with Bryant getting credit for the win.

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Nick Yorke continued his resurgent June atop the lineup, setting the table for Salem's eight-run, 11-hit effort. Yorke reached base four times with two hits, a walk, and a hit batsman, scoring twice and raising his line for the month to .375/.469/.525. Jaxx Groshans had a huge night, blasting his fifth home run of the year to go with a double, single, walk, and two RBI. Wil Dalton also went deep as part of a two-hit effort, while Gilberto Jimenez was 2 for 5 with a stolen base. 

Ryan Zeferjahn got the start, allowing five runs (three earned) on five hits in four innings. He gave way to an exceptional effort from the bullpen, with four hurlers combining to give up just one hit in five innings. Jordan DiValerio allowed that lone hit in his two innings of work, striking out three. Aaron Perry, Casey Cobb, and Cody Scroggins then threw a hitless inning apiece.

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Player of the Day: Jaxx Groshans has flown under the radar despite a strong start to the 2021 season. The 2019 fifth-round pick reached base four times and compiled seven total bases as he improved to .316/.442/.537 on the year. Groshans notched his sixth double and fifth homer, surpassing his 2019 totals in both categories. 

Photo Credit: Nick Yorke by Kelly O'Connor