Gnats come back to bite opponents 

The first quarter of the South Atlantic League schedule has been an uphill climb for the Savannah Sand Gnats. While the Gnats have been around the .500 mark for most of the season, many of the team’s victories have required comebacks, especially in games at Historic Grayson Stadium.

Visiting teams have scored first in 14 of 19 home games for the Sand Gnats, but Savannah has fought back to win half of those contests. Overall, the Sand Gnats have trailed at some point in 25 of their 34 games, but have still managed to break even at 17-17.

Savannah has scored 142 runs this season, which ranks 13th in the 16-team South Atlantic League. With the limited run support, pitching has been crucial for the Sand Gnats, and the hurlers have come through. A staff ERA of 3.55 places Savannah fifth in the SAL.

While the Gnats may not score a large amount of runs, there have been many instances in which the bats came through when they were desperately needed. The precedent was set on Opening Day, when the Asheville Tourists led 6-2 as Savannah came to bat in the seventh inning.

Leftfielder Edgardo Baez knocked a three-run homer to pull the Gnats within one and the bottom of the order took care of the rest. Josh Whitesell and Franklyn Jimenez both sent balls over the fence in the eighth to send the crowd of nearly 5,000 home happy with a 7-6 win. Jimenez had also homered earlier in the game to make a total of four Sand Gnats’ long balls on the night.

Reggie Fitzpatrick took it upon himself to lead Savannah back against the Lake County Captains on April 22nd. Trailing 1-0 in the sixth inning, the Sand Gnats’ outfielder hit a shot over the right field wall to score Jerry Owens and provide the final 2-1 margin. It was Fitzpatrick’s first home run of the season and one of only four hits for Savannah.

More late-inning heroics were required to defeat the Captains again the next night. It took an extra inning for Savannah to complete the comeback this time, and a new clutch hitter was discovered in Antonio Sucre. Sucre led off the tenth inning with a triple to right field and came in to score on a single by Jimenez to give the Sand Gnats a 3-2 victory.

After a strong start, Sucre’s batting average has dropped to .245 for the season, due solely to a lack of success on the road. He has hit extremely well at home, with a .328 average and two home runs. Eight of his twelve RBIs have also come at Grayson Stadium, with several being key contributions in come-from-behind wins.

In the most recent homestand, Sucre provided two of the three Sand Gnats’ victories with ninth-inning hits. On May 6th, Greensboro scored four unearned runs in the top of the first inning to put Savannah in another hole. The Sand Gnats fought back to knot the score at 5 in the fifth, and it stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth. Sucre led off the inning with two walks and a hit already to his credit. He promptly launched a home run into the left field bleachers off of relief pitcher Nathan Nowicki for the win.

Two nights later, Savannah entered the ninth inning behind 3-2. Greensboro closer Chris Resop entered to get the final three outs, but the Sand Gnats had other plans. After catcher Luis Apodaca homered to tie the game, Trey Webb reached on an error to set the stage for another crucial hit from Sucre. A single up the middle brought Webb in from third base and another apparent loss turned into a triumph for Savannah.

While any team would prefer to score first and lead throughout the game, Savannah has proven that good things can come to fans that wait. So if you find yourself at Historic Grayson Stadium and the home team is trailing, you’d better not leave your seat. The 2004 Savannah Sand Gnats have a knack for comebacks.

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W. Ryan Gasque

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