WOODBRIDGE — The Potomac Cannons are making it happen on the field and it’s showing up in the standings and in the clubhouse.
Veteran pitcher Andy Benes, on a minor-league rehab assignment with the St. Louis Cardinals, got a first-hand experience of the positive vibe running through Pfitzner Stadium on Monday as Potomac came from behind twice to beat the Salem Avalanche 8-7 in 10 innings.
Potomac (11-8) has won five of its last six games and two consecutive series, something it hasn’t done all season.
Leadoff hitter Christopher Morris, who went 2 for 6, drove in Milko Jaramillo on an opposite-field single to left off Avalanche closer Enemencio Pacheco with two outs in the 10th for the game-winner. The Cannons’ bats, dormant for the first six innings against Salem starter Scott Dohman, awoke just in time to prevent a loss for Benes, who gave up seven runs on eight hits and six walks in seven innings.
The difference in the second half is execution says Morris, whose infield single in the seventh tied the score at 3.
“It’s not really any different from the first half, we’re just making it happen,” said Morris, while chowing down one some celebratory pizza in the clubhouse. “We’ve got the same mentality, but this time we’re making the plays, making the big hits and making the big pitches. And that’s what it takes to win.”
Benes cruised through four innings with a no-hitter and gave up a harmless single to designated hitter Danny Ortega in the fifth before running into trouble in the sixth. Cory Sullivan singled to start the inning, Brad Hawpe walked and Bryan Peck lined out to first baseman Jeremy Luster. Right fielder Greg Catalanotte then crushed a 2-1 offering over the right-center field wall for a 3-0 Salem lead.
Benes shut out Salem in the seventh and the Cannons knotted the score at 3 in the bottom half of the inning on the hit from Morris and a two-run triple from Milko Jaramillo.
But Benes was pulled after failing to record an out in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff home run to Cory Sullivan, a single to Brad Hawpe, an RBI double to right by Bryan Peck, walked Greg Catalanotte and gave up a sacrifice bunt to Jeff Winchester, who reached first base after third baseman Al Rodgers bobbled the ball.
Relief pitcher Richie Burgess promptly gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Jorge Piedra. A sacrifice bunt by Ambiorix Reyes moved to Piedra to second so Burgess intentionally walked leadoff hitter Melvin Rosario in an attempt to get a force play. Burgess then got Casey Lambert to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
The Cannons scratched out three runs in the eighth off reliever Sean Green on a two-run triple by Mark Burnett and a run-scoring double by Jaramillo, who had four of the Cannons’ 12 hits.
In the ninth, Skip Schumaker walked with one out. After Dan Moylan struck out, Jeremy Luster reached first base on a bouncer to second which Lambert misplayed for an error. Johnny Hernandez followed with an RBI single to right to the tie the score at 7.
Calling his performance Monday as one of his worst in his 30-day rehab assignment for an arthritic right knee, Benes was thrilled to see his “new teammates” pull out the win.
“I take it serious because I don’t want to be the weak link on the team,” said Benes, who was sent down from Triple-A Memphis when the Redbirds went on their All-Star break. “I don’t want to be the deciding factor. Guys are going out there and playing hard and you go out there [and] you want to try and win the game.”
“He’s a gamer, he’s going to compete,” Potomac manager Joe Cunningham said. “You ask anybody, especially with the experience he’s got. Look what he did. He one-hit ’em through five innings. It don’t matter who you are, you’re going to give up some hits.”
Jeremy Cook pitched two scoreless innings to get just his third win in nine decisions. Cook’s recent performances are a microcosm of the Cannons’ bullpen improvement in the second half. Since a 9-2 loss at Kinston on July 2, Cook has two wins and a save.
“They’re throwing strikes, executing their pitches, holding runners, trying to keep the ball down in the strike zone on a consistent basis,” Cunningham said. “They’re doing a good job.”
Catalanotte was 2 for 3 with two runs scored and three RBI for Salem. Dohman, who lost in his last start against the Cannons on May 25, pitched sixth and two-thirds innings of four-hit, three-run ball with three walks and five strikeouts.
For Potomac, Hernandez was 2 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI. The Cannons head to Wilmington Thursday to begin a seven-game road swing that includes a four-game set at Salem next week.