By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Wednesday was supposed to be an off day for Front Royal third baseman Hunter Newman, and he spent most of the Cardinals' Valley League game against Waynesboro hanging out in the bullpen with some of his teammates.
But when Newman glanced at the scoreboard late in the game and saw that Front Royal was trailing the Generals by a run entering the bottom of the eighth inning, he decided to wander back to the dugout.
It's a good thing he did. Front Royal rallied to tie the game on a Waynesboro error, and Newman got the call from Cardinals head coach Brad Neffendorf to pinch hit with two outs and the lead run at third base. Newman, who has established himself as one of the most consistent bats in the Valley League this season, came through by lifting a soft lining single into left field to plate the go-ahead run in Front Royal's eventual 6-5 victory.
"I'm trying to give him some days off here just to kind of save him for the end of the summer. ... I don't want to wear him down and I figured one pinch-hit right there's not going to hurt us. He capitalized," Neffendorf said of Newman. "It was a no-brainer. He was just sitting on the bench ready to go."
Front Royal -- which picked up its league-leading 21st win on Wednesday -- trailed 5-4 entering the eighth inning and opened the bottom of the frame with two quick outs against Generals reliever Joe Marotta.
But Zarley Zalewski and Ryan Cleveland each worked walks to put two runners on for the Cardinals, and Zach Beckner hit a line drive towards left-center that handcuffed Waynesboro center fielder Dan Neff. The ball dropped safely, and the error allowed Zalweski to score from second to tie the game at 5-5.
"We call it the freebie war -- walks, errors, hit-by-pitches. Just the extra bases that you give people. We lost the freebie war tonight," Generals coach D.J. King said. "... We had walked them way more than they had walked us going into the eighth but we were still on top and had a chance to pitch out of it. Joe Marotta stepped up and did a great job for us. He made his pitch, got a fly ball and you drop the ball and lose the game."
Newman, who is batting .348 this summer, then stepped to the plate and took the first two pitches for balls before plating the game-winning RBI with his single.
"I was obviously taking until I got a strike. I hadn't seen a pitch all night long so I wanted to see a few pitches first," Newman said. "I got ahead 2-0. I thought he would come with a fastball and he did.
"When you've been sitting there for eight innings and you step in, it's just a whole different game. I don't know how to explain it. You just hope that you can get a pitch you can work with."
Right-hander Keegan Long worked around a one-out single by Waynesboro's Colin Bennett (2-for-4) in the top of the ninth to seal the win for the Cardinals (21-9). Long, typically a starting pitcher for Front Royal, tossed the final two innings and allowed just one hit while striking out three to earn the victory.
The Cardinals took the lead early against Waynesboro starting pitcher Zach Williamsen, as Shell McCain's RBI double with one out in the bottom of the first gave Front Royal a 1-0 lead.
The Generals (16-12) stormed back with three runs in the third inning off Front Royal starter Jake Harper. Cole Gruber gave Waynesboro a 2-1 lead with a two-run double to left field that sailed just out of reach of Cardinals outfielder Tyler Tichenor, and Michael McClellan's RBI single gave the Generals a 3-1 lead.
That advantage held until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Ricky Reyes' RBI sacrifice fly and Josh Keim's RBI single -- which took a wild hop off the lip of the infield grass and bounded into the outfield -- tied the game at 3-3.
Front Royal took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth, as Williamsen hung an 0-2 splitter to Cleveland, who promptly planted the ball over the fence in right field for a solo home run, his third of the season.
"When you get down 0-2 and you just kind of get in a hole yourself, you're just sitting back and trying to make contact with it," said Cleveland, who was 1-for-2 with a homer, two walks and three runs scored. "Sitting on a curveball, he throws me a [splitter] and I was a little out front. At that point you just try to hit the ball in play somewhere and it works out."
The Generals answered with two more runs in the seventh off Harper, who left the game in the top of the frame after giving up back-to-back singles to Tyler Orris and Bennett to open the inning.
An RBI sacrifice fly by Kyle Pitts and an RBI double by Neff off Cardinals reliever Logan Longwith gave Waynesboro a 5-4 lead.
Harper entered Wednesday with a 1.53 ERA, but surrendered five runs (four earned) on six hits and two walks while striking out five against the Generals.
"He got hit in the hand last week, we held him out of a start. Threw him in the all-star game [on Sunday]. He's kind of out of routine going one out of every seven days," Neffendorf said. "... He came out tough and from there on he didn't get ahead of hitters, ran himself into some hitters counts and they capitalized."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org