By DAVE UTNIK
WOODBRIDGE — As the baseball disappeared behind the second tier of billboards in right-center field Saturday night, Mark Schramek had no idea what he’d just accomplished.
Of course, the Potomac Cannons third baseman was aware of the obvious: he’d just given his team a 3-2 victory with his first Carolina League homer.
What Schramek didn’t know was that the leadoff blast in the bottom of the fourth inning placed him in Hall of Fame company.
Go ahead, add his name to the list of major league players who have hit a home run against pitcher Carlos Castillo: Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey, Jim Edmonds? Mark Schramek.
”That’s a pretty good mental boost,” Schramek said. ”I’d heard he spent a couple of years in the big leagues and that’d we’d have our hands full.”
Castillo, a former Cannons hurler who brought a resume that includes 10 major-league victories with him to the ballpark, gave up three runs on five hits in an encore performance at Pfitzner Stadium.
Schramek had two of those hits — a leadoff single in the second and the go-ahead solo homer in the fourth.
”It felt good. I’m finally feeling comfortable in the box. My hands felt good and I’m glad I could help the team win,” Schramek said. ”I’ve really been working on things. It’s coming around.”
Schramek went 2 for 4 and scored two runs to help the Cannons improve to 18-22 in second-half play.
The Warthogs (21-18) lost for just the fourth time in 11 games despite a promising rehabilitation start by Castillo, who worked five innings in his first Carolina League appearance since 1996.
Coincidentally, the last time the 28-year-old pitched in Woodbridge, he was wearing a Prince William Cannons uniform. That was seven years ago when he was making his way to the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox.
A third-round draft pick in 1994, Castillo made six starts for the Cannons at the end of the 1996 season — going 2-4 with a 3.95 ERA. He made his big league debut the following season and went on to pitch four years in the American League, three with Chicago and one with Boston.
When the White Sox reacquired the right-hander as a free agent this spring he’d been out of baseball for 17 months. He made six relief appearances with Triple-A Charlotte prior to making his Warthogs debut opposite new Cannon Charlie Manning, who was making his Carolina League debut.
Manning who was rated among the top-20 prospects in the Yankees organization when the Reds got him in a trade for Aaron Boone for last week, overcame a wild start to earn his first win in the Reds organization.
The left-hander began this season at Double-A Trenton but spent the month prior to the trade at Class A Tampa, where he went 2-4 with a 3.45 ERA.
His first game as a Cannon got off to a rather dubious beginning. Back-to-back walks to Ruddy Yan and Michael Spidale set up a two-run first inning for the Warthogs — a feat they accomplished with the benefit of a base hit.
Manning issued walks to four of the first six batters he faced and wound up allowing two runs without yielding a hit. Three stolen bases, a passed ball and a run-scoring groundout did all the damage.
Despite walking five batters and hitting two more, Manning did a credible job shutting down one of the Carolina League’s most lethal lineups. He allowed only one hit after the second inning and left the game at the end of the fifth with a one-run lead.
That margin was provided by Schramek and preserved by two outstanding defensive plays from Potomac outfielders in the third inning. Center fielder Junior Ruiz made a diving head-first catch to take a hit away from Brian Becker and left fielder Brad Correll threw Eric Storey out at home plate.
The Cannons began their climb back from a 2-0 deficit when designated hitter Tony Blanco singled to drive in William Bergolla in the first. Schramek scored in the second on a sacrifice fly by catcher Rafael Motooka and then put the Cannons ahead with his fourth hit in eight games since joining the team on July 25.
Brad Salmon, Nick Brannon and Nate Cotton combined for four innings of shutout relief with Cotton stranding a runner on third in the ninth to pick up his 23rd save.
SCATTERED BLASTS: The Chicago White Sox added Winston-Salem right fielder Normand Martel to their 40-man major-league roster on Saturday. Martel, who is batting .280 this season, is the only member of the Warthogs on the big-league roster? Field umpire Joe Stegner ejected Cannons manager Jayhawk Owens in the fifth inning. Owens spent the rest of the night sitting with his family in the box seats behind home plate? Warthogs manager Razor Shines and relief pitcher Jason Stumm were also ejected after league RBI leader Jesse Gutierrez was hit by a pitch for the third time in the seventh inning.