— First and foremost, nice job all around by the Trenton Thunder organization on the home opener. A big crowd of 6,720 at the newly named Arm & Hammer Park, a brand new video board to look at (a few kinks still need to get worked out, but it looks amazing) and a 6-5 win to boot. Probably could have done without the extra innings, but hey, that’s just nitpicking.
— It wasn’t a bad night for Tony Franklin, either. Well, for the most part. He got settled into his office for the first time before the game, but noticed that the walls were looking pretty bare. So he asked for two pictures: one of Arthur Ashe, and one of Jackie Robinson. What he got instead, at least for the time being, was a giant poster of the movie “42,” delivered to him by staffer Steve Brokowsky.
But when it came time to enjoy his new decorations after the game, there was a minor problem. He locked himself out. So, there are clearly some kinks to be worked out in the new renovations to the underbelly of the ballpark and with his team as well, a group that blew a 5-1 lead with two innings left to play.
“We like to finish them off in regulation. I always say we don’t get paid for overtime,” Franklin joked.
“I don’t think we eased up, we just couldn’t put anything together after we scored a few runs.”
— Zach Nuding was very impressive in his first outing in Trenton. Over six innings of work, the big righty allowed just one run (a fourth inning Susac home run) and struck out seven Flying Squirrels batters, needing 90 pitches (56 strikes) to do so. His fastball sat in the low 90’s for most of the night.
— After the Thunder bullpen again performed poorly, it was up to Slade Heathcott (pictured) to turn things around in the 11th inning. After struggling in both Portland and New Hampshire, the highly touted outfielder stroked a one-out triple to left center field…but it had the potential to be a baserunning blunder as well, with Heathcott stopping after rounding second base for a moment.
“That could have hurt us,” Franklin said. “If he stays there at second and doesn’t get to third and we don’t have a runner at third with one out; that was a big play right there. Fortunately, he was able to restart and get to third base.”
Franklin said that on any ball that’s in front of them, they’re their own base coaches, so he wasn’t yelling at Heathcott to get to third. Interestingly enough, third base is one short of where Heathcott told reporters he was looking to get to in that at-bat.
“First, I was trying to hit a homer,” he said. “That didn’t work out, so I just choked up and I was trying to put it in play and just beat a ball out to first, try to get on base and maybe steal second. I don’t know what happened (on the play), I looked up and I heard the crowd yell and then I heard it get quiet. When I looked up, I couldn’t see any of the outfielders, so I thought he caught it. Obviously, that’s a big mistake on my part…I wasn’t worried about (not getting to third) once I found out what was going on, but that’s something I’d like to not do again.”
Ramon Flores’ sacrifice fly one batter later plated Heathcott and ended the game.
— If there was a downside to the game, it was that the bullpen again let Trenton down. Though Kelvin Perez and Shaeffer Hall turned in scoreless outings, Branden Pinder again struggled, turning a 5-1 lead into a 5-5 tie witin his two frames.
— Hall has been very, very good this year. That’ll get overlooked in a game like tonight’s, and he’ll get overlooked with some of the names on this roster. But he allowed just one hit and struck out four Richmond hitters in two innings, picking up the win in relief. The crafty lefty isn’t going to blow anyone away with his fastball, but simply knows how to pitch.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com