Kristopher Negron has always been a great defender. Monday afternoon, Negron flashed the leather and showed some pop in his bat to lead the Louisville Bats to a 4-3 victory over the Syracuse Chiefs.
Negron’s two out, solo home run in the second turned out to be the difference in the game. It was Negron’s fifth homer of the season. It gave the Bats a 4-2 lead at the time.
His homer followed a ridiculous catch ending the top of the second. With a runner at second, two outs and the Bats leading by a run, Josh Johnson ripped what looked to be a game-tying double. Negron immediately took off into a dead sprint towards the wall, laid out and made a sensational catch to preserve the lead.
“I got a pretty good beat of it off the bat,” Negron said. “It hung up just long enough, I dove for it, and it ended up in my glove.”
“(The catch) was fun to watch,” Bats manager David Bell said. “I heard guys in the dugout saying that was the best play they’ve ever seen.”
Negron wasn’t done. J.R. Higley led off the Chiefs’ seventh with a sharp line drive to center. Negron sprinted in and made another diving catch to rob Higley of a base hit.
“I’ve never seen anybody that good at that many positions,” Bell said of Negron, who has played six different positions for the Bats this year. “Wherever you put him, there’s a good chance he’s the best player at that position.”
Negron wasn’t the only Bat showing off the glove Monday. Felix Perez and Willie Harris both made diving plays in the late innings to help the Bats preserve their 4-3 lead.
“Defense was definitely a key,” Bell said.
Negron finished 2-for-3 in the game and scored the Bats’ first, as well as their final, run. With his team already trailing 2-0 in the first, Negron jump started the Bats’ offense with a leadoff single in the first. Negron scored on Felix Perez’s double to trim the deficit to 2-1. Four batters later, Willie Harris ripped a two-RBI double down the right field line to give the Bats the lead.
Wirfin Obispo made his second start for the Bats (17-35) and struggled out of the gate. Obispo gave up a single to Josh Johnson and RBI triple Jim Negrych to start the game. After an RBI groundout from Mark Teahen, Obispo got out of the inning with no more damage.
The Chiefs (23-28) scored one more off Obispo in the third with an RBI single from Xavier Paul that made the score 4-3.
That would be all the Chiefs got. Scott Carroll, who picked up the win, pitched three shutout innings in relief of Obispo giving up just two hits. Nick Christiani then came in and tossed 2-2/3 innings scoreless. Christiani would’ve gotten the save but Jordan Smith came in for the final out of the ninth after Christiani gave up a two-out double to Carlos Rivero.
Bats pitching, which has struggled this year with giving free passes, walked just one batter Monday while striking out five.
“Obispo, Carroll, and Christiani all did a good job for us today in a difficult situation,” Bell said. “(The bullpen) has done a great job all year.”
The teams hook up for game two of the four game series Tuesday morning at 11:05 in an Education Day Special. Jeff Francis (2-5, 4.09 ERA) will take the mound for the Bats against Zach Duke (5-2, 4.25 ERA) in a matchup of former big leaguers. The Bats will look to win their second straight game for just the fifth time this season and second time in May.