Gorkys Hernandez delivered the game-winning two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning to carry New Orleans past Omaha, 6-5, Friday night in the opener of a five-game series at Zephyr Field. The Storm Chasers dipped to 23-23 on the season and fell two games behind victorious Memphis in the American Conference North Division.
NOLA starter Jacob Turner had retired nine Storm Chasers in a row before losing his control for a two-batter stretch in the fifth inning when he walked Chad Tracy and Adam Moore in succession and uncorked a wild pitch that advanced the runners. Willy Taveras drove in Tracy with a ground out and Paulo Orlando followed with a double to chase home Moore to trim the Zephyrs lead to 4-2. The southpaw retired Max Ramirez on a come-backer and fanned Anthony Seratelli with runners at second and third and nobody out in the sixth before Tracy singled to drive in Christian Colon to draw Omaha within one but Johnny Giavotella was thrown out at the plate attempting to score the tying run.
Turner allowed six hits, walked two and fanned four over six innings and turned things over to Jordan Smith, who could not protect the lead and make it out of the seventh. Taveras walked and Orlando followed with a single in front of an Irving Falu ground out that pushed the runners up a base before Christian Colon came through with a clutch two-out, two-run single to put the Chasers in front for the first time at 5-4 and knock Smith out of the game.
Omaha starter Ryan Verdugo settled down after a bumpy beginning and gave way to Everett Teaford with a runner on and two outs in the seventh. The visitors second southpaw gave up a base hit to Bryan Peterson but struck out Matt Downs to end the frame and maintain the lead that was claimed in the top of the frame. Verdugo was not involved in the decision after allowing four runs, three earned, on eight hits while issuing a pair of walks and striking out four.
Teaford departed with a runner at second base and one out in the eighth and was followed by Michael Mariot, working on back-to-back days for the first time since his first two outings of the season on April 7-8. The right-hander walked the first batter he faced, Koyie Hill, before Hernandez delivered the decisive blow. Chris Hatcher then silenced any sort of Chasers comeback attempt in the ninth inning by retiring the side in order with three ground outs to record his 14th save.
Hernandez led off the home first with a single, stole second base and scored on a two-out double by Kevin Kouzmanoff, the former Storm Chasers third baseman playing in just his fifth game of the season after being sidelined by a back injury. The hosts added to their lead in the third in similar fashion when Hill singled to start the frame, moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Hernandez and scored when Gil Velazquez singled. The Z’s, who had averaged just two runs per game over their just-concluded eight-game road trip, doubled their output in the fourth on a two-run homer run by Jake Smolinski, his second at the Triple-A level this season.
The series continues Saturday with a twin bill during which Omaha right-hander Nate Adcock will take the mound in the bottom of the first inning to resume the suspended game from May 1 and will be followed to the hill in the nightcap by right-hander Brian Sanches while New Orleans will counter with right-handers Matt Neil in the opener and Dough Mathis in game two.