BOWIE – With blood dripping down his left eye, outfielder Austin Hays quickly ran out of the batter’s box, covered his face with a towel and rushed into the clubhouse during the Bowie Baysox’s 5-3 loss to Altoona on July 23.
A foul ball hit him in the face, left a gash above his eyebrow and forced him to rest at home while he recuperated from the injury.
“The pain wasn’t bad. It was the swelling that was the problem,” Hays said. “My eye was completely shut for two days, so I wouldn’t have been able to play. I pretty much laid in bed and let the swelling go down.”
With his 13-game hitting streak over, the Baltimore Orioles prospect was determined to get back on the field with his teammates. Even though the stitches were completely removed by July 29, leaving a small cut above his left eye, and he was feeling better, Hays struck out twice against Akron starting pitcher Shane Bieber.
However, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, all the patience used on his injured left eye transferred into finding the perfect pitch.
“(Bieber) got the best of me in my first two at-bats,” Hays said. “And I had a feeling he was going to go back to the breaking ball. I was fortunate he left one up and I got the bat to it and didn’t miss it. I knew it when I got it.”
The Daytona Beach native crushed the ball over the left field wall for a grand slam, giving the Baysox the lead and catapulting the team to victory over the Akron RubberDucks, 5-3, as part of a doubleheader sweep on Sunday. Bowie won the first game, 5-2, and took three of four games in the series.
With thunderstorms sweeping through the state during the week, the four-game series with Akron turned into a pair of doubleheaders over the weekend. Both teams split the opening games on Saturday.
“The fact that it hasn’t been really hot helps because we played four games in 24 hours, basically,” Manager Gary Kendall said. “It’s always tough to get a sweep in a doubleheader so I was pleased.”
In the second game, starting pitcher Jesus Liranzo ran into trouble early, allowing three runs and walking six batters before being pulled. Right-hander Brandon Barker threw four shutout innings in relief, including four strikeouts, to keep the Baysox in contention for the victory.
Bieber limited Bowie to only four hits and struck out three before the fifth inning. However, with Barker pitching well and limiting the RubberDucks’ offense, Bowie made its run. Back-to-back singles and a walk in the bottom of the fifth inning loaded the bases and sparked a bid for the comeback. After Hays’ grand slam cleared the fence, Bowie continued to press on with two more base hits. An Aderlin Rodriguez sacrifice fly brought in another run and, essentially, the victory for the home team.
“(Altoona) really had an opportunity in the first inning to put us away,” Kendall said. “They let us hang around and all we needed was a couple of base runners. We had tried for a couple of innings and we were threatening. Once we got the bases loaded, we felt that we could realistically win the ball game. We didn’t think (Hays) would hit a grand slam, but it was awfully nice.”
In the first game of the doubleheader, left-hander John Means shut down the RubberDucks, pitching five-and-two-thirds innings, walking three and striking out seven batters. The performance helped lead Bowie to a 5-2 victory.
The Baysox offense struck quickly after centerfielder Cedric Mullins’ routine pop-up turned into a double with a throwing error, placing him on third base. Second baseman Ryan Flaherty then smacked a two-run homer to right center field to give the Baysox a 2-1 lead.
Designated hitter Anthony Santander, a new addition to Bowie, hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth to extend the lead. Since arriving on a rehab assignment on July 27, the 22-year-old Venezuelan has added extra power. In his first four games, Santander has six hits, five RBIs and a batting average of .667.
The victories increase Bowie’s (57-50) first-place lead to two games with less than half of the season remaining. Santander said he hopes the momentum gained from the doubleheader victories can carry the team through its six-game road trip.
“Now that we are in first place, it’s our time to show the best of ourselves, to win each game possible and be at the top of our game before the playoffs,” Santander said.