A noon start brings hope

Mitch Longo beats the throw home on Jecksson Flores’ sacrifice fly (Photo courtesy Harrisburg Senators)

It’s difficult not to compare and contrast the 2022 Senators with the team we saw last year. Manager Tripp Keister and many of the same players returned to City Island. Familiar faces back in familiar places. I’m guessing there’s a German word that describes the tendency for humans to do that.

On Tuesday night, Portland starting pitcher Brayan Bello and four relievers, each throwing harder than the last, shut down the Senators for most of the game in a deflating 7-1 loss that was never in doubt. It looked like more of the same for a team who last year went 42-76, batted .228, and scored a league-low 432 runs.

Wednesday’s day game (by the way, am I the only one that finds it odd this was the schedule immediately after the pomp and circumstance of the home opener?) featured another highly touted starting pitching prospect in the Red Sox system. And like Bello 16 hours earlier, Portland southpaw Jay Groome shoved.

The former first-round draft pick overwhelmed the Senators allowing a lone infield single in five innings. Groome’s surgical precision of efficiency (and the Senators’ nadir in their approach) culminated in a five-pitch inning that ended his day after delivering just 49 pitches.

I feel pretty confident saying that the Senators would have finished the game with a whimper last year, seemingly going through the motions and trying to get off the island as fast as possible. Odds are better than good it would have been a shutout.

But Wednesday afternoon, this year’s edition of the team flipped the script.

Jecksson Flores tied the game up, lifting a fly ball just deep enough with two strikes on him to score Mitch Longo from third base. A walk and hit by pitch loaded the bases for Harrisburg’s hottest hitter, K.J. Harrison.

After starting the at-bat with three straight balls, Portland reliever Dylan Spacke worked it back to a full count. But on the payoff pitch, Harrison laid off an offering off the plate to move everyone up 90 feet and give the Senators the lead. Two pitches later, a wild pitch bounced towards the home dugout, allowing runners to advance for a 3-1 advantage.

A Portland rally in the ninth plated a run but couldn’t find the equalizer giving the Senators the 3-2 victory.

Perhaps it was just a bad day on the bump for Spacke, or maybe it was something more. Something we rarely saw last year. That possibility makes this team infinitely more watchable for the remainder of the season.

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