By Aaron McFarling
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – High drama has a way of bringing the best out of the Salem Red Sox.
Pressed to extra innings for the second straight night, the Sox responded brilliantly again. Matt Gedman drove home
Mookie Betts with the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning, sending Salem to a 4-3 victory over Myrtle Beach on Thursday to clinch the best-of-three Southern Division Championship Series.
“It’s definitely huge,” said Betts, who led off the 10th with a double to extend his on-base streak to 32 consecutive games. “We’re going to the championship. That’s been our goal from the beginning. We were in a bind there in the ninth, but we stuck together as a team and we believed in each other. That was the main thing.”
Salem, seeking its first Carolina League title since 2001, advances to face Potomac in the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship Series. The first two games will be played in Potomac starting Saturday, with Salem hosting the remainder of the series beginning Tuesday.
The Sox surge into the title set having won 10 straight one-run games and 27 of their past 35 games overall. But they had to work for this one.
The division series appeared to be headed to a decisive third game when Myrtle Beach got the first two runners aboard on bottom of the ninth inning against Virginia Tech alum Matt Price.
“It’s basically time to buckle down,” said Price, who went 6-0 with a 2.41 ERA in the regular season. “I put myself in that jam, and it’s up to me to get out of it. I had to really dig deep, focus, look at what I was doing wrong and make adjustments on the fly.”
After Odubel Herrera sacrificed the runners to second and third, Price struck out Myrtle Beach’s Nos. 3 and 4 hitters to send the game to extras.
“I think it’s a testament to Price that he didn’t let the situation overcome him,” Salem manager Billy McMillon said as his players doused each other with champagne. “He was able to rise and execute some pitches the way we want him to. That was really nice to see.”
Salem’s pitchers held the Pelicans scoreless in 19 of the 20 innings in this series. Robby Scott, Matty Ott and Price combined to throw six shutout innings of relief on Thursday, sending Salem to its first Mills Cup finals since 2009.
“It’s just really awesome,” Price said. “It’s been a blessing all year. I look back and I can’t help but just smile. It’s just been an absolute blast, and I look forward to the next series.”
Pelicans starter Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez cruised through the first four innings, then got the first out of the fifth inning to record the longest outing of his young pro career. A first round draft pick out of Oral Roberts in June, Gonzalez dominated early with a mid-90s cutter, but the fifth – and some shaky defense behind him – proved to be his downfall.
After Gedman singled sharply, David Chester walked to give the Sox their first true threat. Nick Natoli hit a chopper toward the hole that glanced off the glove of shortstop Hanser Alberto for a run-scoring error, with Gedman narrowly beating the offline thrown to the plate.
One out later, with runners on second and third, Henry Ramos chopped a ball to first that caught Drew Robinson on an in-between hop. The deflected ball – scored a hit – allowed Chester and Natoli to score to tie the game.
The Pelicans also got some help while pouncing for three runs in the second inning off Salem starter Brian Johnson. With runners on second and third and one out, Alberto rapped a grounder to Natoli at short. A good throw home would have gotten Royce Bolinger by plenty but instead skipped past catcher Blake Swihart for an error.
Chris Grayson followed with a sac fly, then Odubel Herrera added an RBI single to make it 3-0.
“I thought as long as we kept the game close, we still had a chance,” McMillon said. “Something about these guys, they just seem to find a way to pull it out. It was really nice to see them not get dejected falling behind early in the game. We didn’t particularly swing the bat well, but we made contact when we were supposed to. Just a total team effort, I think.”