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Trash Pandas bash past Barons for 9-4 win

BIRMINGHAM – In a game that ended over 24 hours after it began, the Rocket City Trash Pandas defeated the Birmingham Barons 9-4 in a rain-shortened seven-inning contest in the third game of their six-game series that ended on Friday night at Regions Field.

On Thursday night, starters Konnor Pilkington of the Barons and Rocket City’s Aaron Hernandez each pitched a scoreless first inning. In the second, Pilkington induced a fly out from David MacKinnon before the skies opened above Regions Field, leading to the suspension of the game.

When the action resumed on Friday afternoon, the Trash Pandas turned to Jhonathan Diaz from the bullpen and the lefty delivered a scoreless bottom of the second. An inning later, the Rocket City offense came to life.

Torii Hunter Jr. led off the third by reaching on an error. Michael Cruz followed with a 427-foot two-run blast to right-center, his fifth home run of the season to give the Trash Pandas a 2-0 lead. Later in the inning with two on and one out, MacKinnon doubled to right, scoring Ray-Patrick Didder from second. An RBI single from Ibandel Isabel and a sacrifice fly from Izzy Wilson capped the inning’s scoring to give Rocket City an early five-run cushion.

Diaz (W, 2-1) made that lead stand up for the duration of his appearance. Over 4.0 strong innings, he kept the Barons off the board and allowed just two hits while striking out nine to earn the win in his first appearance since coming off the injured list.

In the sixth, Cruz drove in his third run of the game with an RBI single to left. Birmingham got half the runs back with one swing in the bottom of the frame on a three-run homer from Xavier Fernandez off new Trash Pandas reliever Nathan Bates to make it a 6-3 game.

Mitch Nay restored the six-run lead for the Trash Pandas with a three-run shot of his own 385 feet the other way to right. The home run is Nay’s 15th of the season to tie him with teammate Izzy Wilson for the Double-A South lead.

Bates gave up a solo home run to Joel Booker in the bottom of the seventh to make it a 9-4 game. But before the inning could be completed, rain again descended upon the Birmingham area and the tarp was rolled onto the field.

After a delay of exactly three hours, the game was called, giving the Trash Pandas the victory.

From the nine spot in the lineup, Cruz led the way by going 2-for-3 with the home run and three RBI. Nay also drove in three while Isabel and MacKinnon each recorded two hits in the win.

Bates finished the win after giving up four earned runs over 1.2 innings with one walk and two strikeouts. The victorious Rocket City pitching trio of Hernandez, Diaz, and Bates combined to strike out 14 over 6.2 innings.

Friday night’s regularly scheduled game was postponed due to the rain and will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Saturday, July 17. Both games will be seven-inning contests. The Trash Pandas (30-31) and Barons (32-30) will begin that doubleheader at Regions Field at 4 p.m. Josh Caray will be on the call for 103.9 FM THE UMP and 730 AM SportsRadio.

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