Chris Dwyer was solid through 5 2/3 innings as Omaha survived a late scare to fend off Memphis, 5-2, Friday night in the opener of a crucial five-game series at AutoZone Park. The Storm Chasers improved to 63-64 and stretched their lead over the Redbirds in the American Conference North Division to three with 17 games left to go in the regular season.
Michael Mariot, who had tossed nine scoreless frames in his prior seven outings, was called on to protect a 5-1 lead in the ninth inning. Greg Garcia walked with one out, moved to second base on a Justin Christian single and scored on a Travis Tartamella base hit to cut the deficit to three. Mike O’Neill then fouled out before Ryan Jackson grounded out to end the game with Brock Peterson, the league’s leading home run hitter, on deck, as the Redbirds suffered their fourth consecutive loss.
The visitors jumped on Boone Whiting two batters into the game when Christian Colon slugged his 12th home run of the year to get the scoring started. It was the eighth straight solo home run for the Storm Chasers, who now trail in the season series 7-5. Whiting, taking the turn in place of the scheduled starter Tyler Lyons, who is “on hold” for the St. Louis Cardinals, walked Brian Fletcher and Anthony Seratelli to start the fifth inning and then committed a throwing error on a Pedro Ciriaco sacrifice bunt that allowed both runners to score to extend the Omaha advantage to 3-0. The rally didn’t end there, as Gorkys Hernandez singled with two outs, advanced to second base on a Whiting wild pitch and scored on a base hit by Irving Falu.
Dwyer blanked the hosts on four hits through the first five frames before Peterson delivered a sacrifice fly to trim the lead to 4-1. The left-hander walked former Storm Chaser Jamie Romak to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs in the sixth and was lifted in favor of Francisley Bueno, who got Jermaine Curtis to bounce into a force out to end the threat. Dwyer earned his ninth victory after allowing five hits, walking a pair and fanning five.
Falu tripled to start the eighth, his 29th Triple-A three-base hit to move into sole possession of second place on the franchise’s all-time list, against former Omaha hurler Victor Marte and scored on a Johnny Giavotella fly ball to restore a four-run cushion for the Storm Chasers. Bueno tossed a scoreless seventh and then worked around back-to-back singles to start the eighth to keep the Redbirds off the board.
The series continues Saturday evening with Omaha left-hander Everett Teaford taking the hill against Memphis right-hander Carlos Martinez.