At risk with RISP

Watching the baseball fall to the lush green grass of right-center field, Calvin Rayburn stood next to the pitcher’s mound at Bowman Field and pounded his right hand against the side of his glove.

Before the ball fell to the ground, Rayburn could see clearly his way out of a sketchy ninth inning in a tied game against Auburn. The pitch he threw to Auburn right fielder Brian Langlois was the pitch he wanted. It wasn’t one of those he wanted to take back as soon as it left his hand.

It was the first run the Williamsport reliever surrendered since the first batter he faced homered off him on June 17. This run cost the Crosscutters in a 2-1 loss to Auburn.

The loss erased a fantastic outing by Cutters starting pitcher Alejandro Arteaga, who allowed just one run and five hits in seven brilliant innings. The loss also amplified Williamsport’s struggles with runners in scoring position, as it recorded just two hits in 11 chances Saturday night.

“It was where I wanted,” Rayburn said of the pitch Langlois hit for the game-winning RBI. “He was just able to get out there and put the bat on the ball. There’s nothing you can do. At the end of the day we had a chance to win the game and we had a chance to tie. We just have to do a better job.”

The Cutters played just their third one-run game of the season Saturday night, but it seems like so many more. Thirteen of their 22 games so far have been decided by three runs or less, and the theme of being one hit away from changing a handful of results is all too common.

Williamsport stranded a runner in scoring position in six of the first seven innings last night. The only hits with runners in scoring position came in the seventh inning on a single by Emmanuel Marrero which didn’t score a run, and an infield single by Chase Harris which plated Deivi Grullon to tie the game at 1-1.

The Cutters are hitting just .200 this week with runners in scoring position, and it’s only that high after a 6 for 18 performance in a win over Jamestown on Wednesday.

“We keep getting chances and you’d love to see that one hit,” Cutters manager Shawn Williams said. “Guys are having good at-bats. Even if they pop them up with two outs, they have a good swing at it and they’re right there, they just get a little under it.”

“It’s one swing, one pitch,” Rayburn said. “It comes down to that. It’s about the pride it takes to get that one swing or that one pitch and get the job done.”

Williamsport had either the first or second hitter of the inning on base in six of nine innings last night. But that runner scored only once. Aaron Brown had a shot to break the game open in the seventh with two runners on and two outs when he drove a ball to the warning track in left field.

Matthew Page made a beautiful over-the-shoulder basket catch as he hit the warning track to steal what was certainly a two-run double away from Brown, who already had two hits.

“I don’t know how the left fielder was there with a left-handed hitter up,” Williams said. “As soon as (Brown) hit it, I thought it was down.”

Williamsport just couldn’t find the offense to back Arteaga, a right-hander who went seven innings for the second consecutive start. The 20-year old Venezuelan allowed two runs or fewer for the third time in five starts this year.

He didn’t walk a batter last night and struck out four, using a fastball which will run into the mid-90s, and a wipeout slider to keep Auburn off-balance. He struggled to find a put-away pitch in his last start in State College, but was efficient in his work last night. Arteaga didn’t throw more than 16 pitches in an innings, and didn’t throw more than 14 in an inning over his final four innings.

The Doubledays scored its only run off Arteaga on a fourth-inning sacrifice fly from Page.

“He did a hell of a job. You see guys go five or six and you’re happy with it. He goes seven tonight and he absolutely shoves,” Rayburn said. “They had no idea what to do with it. That’s something you want to emulate as a reliever. You say the guy busted his butt, now we have to come in and back it up. I just wasn’t able to tonight.”