Dragons rally to top first-place Great Lakes

Carlos Jorge batted lead off Saturday night for the first time this season, struck out twice and was hit by a pitch in this first three at-bats. For most of the season, what came next hasn’t happened often for a lot of the Dragons. But lately they are trending in a positive direction.

On cue, with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, the left-handed hitting Jorge saw the pitch he wanted from a left-hander. And he lined it into center field for a two-run single to put the Dragons ahead on their way to a 6-3 victory over first-place Great Lakes at Day Air Ballpark.

“I waited for that pitch the whole day,” Jorge said. “They worked me on sliders the whole day. I faced him the at-bat before, and he gave me the fastball on this one. And I didn’t miss.”

The Dragons’ five-run seventh exemplified what manager Vince Harrison Jr. is beginning to see more consistently from his young team. They have won three straight, five of six and six of eight to reach 18-20 and pull to three games behind Great Lakes and Lake County, which are tied for first at 21-17.

“For a while we didn’t have eight or nine guys putting pressure on the pitcher, and we’re doing a better job of that,” Harrison said. “We’ve been consistent with our message and these guys are stepping up and realizing that every AB matters, every pitch matters.”

The Dragons did just that with two of their best hitters, regular lead-off man Jay Allen II and Sal Stewart, taking the night off. The seventh began with Cade Hunter going the opposite way for a single to left. Then hot-hitting Ruben Ibarra, who hit his second home run this week and this season to lead off the fifth, walked.

Victor Acosta was next and reached first on a bunt single when no one covered first. After a strikeout, Logan Tanner walked with the bases loaded to trim the Loons’ lead to 3-2. Then Jorge hit the next pitch to bring in two runs for a 4-3 lead.

“He’s been swinging the bat good for me, and he’s making some good strides,” Harrison said. “Just trying to give guys some chances to shine and guys are stepping up.”

Jorge also talked about how players are beginning to do little things better to help the team win. He did that after his big hit. Hector Rodriguez grounded to the second baseman Sam Mongelli, who ran at Jorge to tag him. Jorge, however, retreated toward first base and forced Mongelli to chase him down. By the time Jorge was tagged for the second out, Rodriguez was safe and the inning continued.

Harrison said the players are reminded of that situation daily and they have a sign for it for the baserunners.

“If he tags me and throws to first base, that’s a double play,” Jorge said. “And we don’t want that. I want to help my team, and that’s what I did. You have to be prepared for that play before it happens.”

With the inning alive, Ethan O’Donnell walked to reload the bases. Then Cam Collier put the ball in play, a slow grounder that bounced over the first base bag. When it did, first baseman Kyle Nevin misplayed the ball for an error, a run scored and the bases were still loaded. Then Lucas Wepf balked home the Dragons’ final run.

After Jorge was tagged out, there were words between him and Mongelli. Loons catcher Nelson Quiroz ran toward second base and got involved. Then the benches emptied, but nothing happened, no one was ejected and the game continued.

“He told me you’re out go back to the dugout, and I just was happy because Rodriguez was safe at first and we had a chance to score another run,” Jorge said.

The Dragons also got what they needed from starter Kevin Abel and relievers Andrew Moore and Luis Mey on a night when Harrison had only three relievers available. Abel allowed three runs on five hits and two walks in five innings. Moore (1-0) allowed one hit and struck out five in three innings. Mey walked one and struck out the side in the ninth with his explosive fastball for his fourth save.

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