TRENTON — It seemed only fitting that the longest game of the season by both time and innings would end on a bizarre play.
And when Akron reliever Trey Haley threw Gary Sanchez’s soft line drive back to the hill out of play, it brought home Slade Heathcott and sealed a marathon Trenton win, 3-2 over the Aeros in 13 innings on a cool but muggy Saturday night at Arm & Hammer Park.
With the win, Trenton moves five games up on New Britain, New Hampshire and Portland for the Eastern League wild card.
“It’s not too long if you win them,” manager Tony Franklin said afterward, commenting on the team’s longest game since May of 2011. “It was a long game, but extra-inning games go like that sometimes. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it. You just keep playing.
And after walk with the bases loaded to Saxon Butler tied the game in the ninth, that’s exactly what the Thunder and the Aeros did, engaging in a duel of bullpens for four more frames.
Sanchez and Heathcott got mobbed at home plate, but it was the bullpen who did the lion’s share of the work on Saturday. A quartet of Trenton relievers worked 10 2/3 scoreless frames to give their offense the time it needed to cobble together a rally.
The third man out the pen was Zach Nuding, a converted starter thrust into the pen to help manage his innings, who first wiggled out of a first-and-third, one-out jam to keep Akron’s lead at a lone run. He punched out four and walked one in throwing up zeroes for 10 outs.
“It’s not really that new in a sense of just adjusting to the role,” Nuding, a reliever in college, said. “It’s just becoming familiar with that role again just because it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in college, and I was (a reliever), so it’s just kind of getting back to the familiarity of being out of the bullpen and kind of having to change your routine as opposed to being a starter.”
So far, the transition has gone quite well. In four appearances since heading to the pen, Nuding has allowed just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings. He’s fanned six and walked two as a reliever.
Nuding gave way to Danny Burawa, who set down the Aeros the rest of the way on just two hits. More impressive than his effort on the hill, however, was his work in the field. The right-hander made two fantastic plays on balls between the mound and first base that required timing and dexterity, and he converted both into key outs.
“I don’t think anyone in this clubhouse gets ragged on for lack of athleticism more than me,” Burawa said. “But I’ve practiced those plays a million times. I did 20 reps today, so, athleticism or not, we’ve practiced that play a ton of times.”
Trenton starter Fred Lewis – a converted reliever who just off the disabled list on Saturday after dealing with a blister for a week or so – lasted just 2 1/3 innings before reaching his limit. He was spelled by Graham Stoneburner, who held the Aeros down for the next eight outs.
Stoneburner handed the baton to Aaron Dott, who repeated his predecessor’s feat with 2 2/3 innings more of shutout ball.
Akron starter Toru Murata, who was on the hill for the Aeros’ clincher against the Thunder last year in the final game of the Eastern League Championship Series, spun seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball. He fanned seven and walked nobody.
Trenton’s only run off of Murata came on a long solo home run to left field from Heathcott.