By Josh Cook
The Louisville Bats started the second half of the season with a bang. Juan Francisco's big bang to be exact.
Francisco's two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth capped an incredible comeback, as the Bats beat Lehigh Valley 8-7 on Thursday night in front of 7,412 fans at Louisville Slugger Field.
Louisville (45-48) trailed the Iron Pigs 7-0 after an inning and a half, but rallied for its ninth win in its last 12 games thanks in large part to Francisco. The third baseman homered twice and finished with five RBIs.
Lehigh Valley (37-54) scored five runs in the top of the first inning and two in the second, but that was all the runs the Iron Pigs would score.
It was a stinker of a start of Bats starter Matt Klinker, who allowed the first five Lehigh Valley batters to reach base. He gave up a double, two singles, a walk and another single, as the Iron Pigs batted around in the top of the first. How bad did things get? Even Lehigh Valley pitcher J.A. Happ got in on the action with an RBI-single.
The Iron Pigs added two more runs in the second on solo home runs by Ozzie Chavez and Andy Tracy.
But then the Bats began their comeback.
Wladimir Balentien led off the bottom of the second with a solo home run, his 13th of the year, to left field. After Chris Valaika flew out Chris Denove walked, then moved to second on Klinker's sacrifice bunt. Denove advanced to third on Gary Matthews Jr.'s single, then scored on Zack Cozart's single. Matthews, who moved to third on Cozart's single, scored on Yonder Alonso's single that made it 7-3.
Louisville added another three-spot in the seventh inning.
Cozart led off with a single off new pitcher Mike Zagurski, then advanced to second when Todd Frazier reached on a fielding error. A wild pitch by Zagurski moved Cozart to third and Frazier to second before Francisco's ninth homer of the season scored all three.
Then in the bottom of the ninth Daniel Dorn led off with a double off new Lehigh Valley pitcher Scott Mathieson (3-3). Frazier then lined out to left before Francisco's second big fly of the game.
Francisco, Matthews and Cozart led Louisville's 11-hit attack with two apiece.
Daniel Ray Herrera (1-0) picked up the win with one inning of relief. He was one of three Louisville relievers who held the Iron Pigs to only three hits over the final five innings.
Klinker gave up 10 hits and seven earned runs, while walking one and striking out three in four inning. Enerio Del Rosario provided two innings of hitless relief, then Phillippe Valiquette gave up two hits over two innings before Herrera came on in the ninth.
The same two teams meet at 7:05 p.m. Friday night. It is Bats Gym Bag Giveaway night, the first 2,000 in attendance will receive them. As usual there will also be post-game fireworks.
Photo courtesy Louisville Bats