Wahoos Win Home Finale Behind Velez’s Quality Start

September 13, 2021

The team had unfurled a thank you banner Saturday night in appreciation of Blue Wahoos fans.

And then on Sunday, the Blue Wahoos took a bow by completing their five month home schedule in a desired way.

In a game which best crystalized their entire season, the Blue Wahoos received stellar, starting pitching – this time again from Anthony Velez — solid relief and produced just enough runs to beat the Biloxi Shuckers 3-2 in the final, regular-season home game of the 2021 season.

The win improved the Blue Wahoos (56-53) position for an overall winning record. But losses in the first four games of this six-game homestand dampened hopes for reaching the Double-A South playoffs.

“It’s always good when you can bookend a series with a couple of wins,” said Blue Wahoos manager Kevin Randel, whose team beat Biloxi 6-0 Saturday night to end the losing streak.

“Obviously it is sort of a letdown, losing those first four and kinda dropping our chances to get into the playoffs. But it’s always nice to finish strong.”

The weather held up Sunday for a crowd of 3,444 to watch Velez, 24, a left-hander and former Florida State pitcher, to make his third consecutive quality start since joining the team August 17 from the Beloit (Wisc.) Snappers, the Miami Marlins’ High-A affiliate.

Velez, a Miami native and former Tampa Bay area high school star, gave up just four hits in six complete innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out nine to lower his earned run average to 0.50 in Double-A.

“He was really good,” Randel said. “He caught a stretch in Beloit and still is kinda riding that high. He’s a guy that throws strikes and changes speed and if you do that, you’ll pitch for a long time.”

In three Double-A starts, Velez has pitched 18 innings, allowed just one earned run, walked only two and has 18 strikeouts.

He got run support Sunday when centerfielder Kameron Misner, another recent addition from Beloit, led off the first inning with a double and scored on J.J. Bleday’s single to right field. Bleday then led off the fifth inning with a single, stole second base and scored on Lazaro Alonso’s single.

Bleday went 2-for-3 in the game with a walk and RBI, following a 2-for-3 night Saturday with two RBI.

The eventual decisive run occurred in the sixth, after Galli Cribbs Jr. doubled and scored on Misner’s RBI single. Misner went 2-for-5 after going 2-for-3 Saturday with two walks and two runs scored.

“He’s kind of a good all-around player,” Randel said. “He’s got some speed, some power, got a pretty swing from the left side. He’s just a good bat to add to the top of the order where we have been kinda missing that top-of-the-order-batter to get on base.”

The Blue Wahoos know they may have missed chances earlier in the series for more wins and closer position in for a playoff spot.

The Birmingham Barons (62-52) continued their red-hot play to control second place. They swept the Rocket City Trash Pandas to maintain a 3.5-game lead over Pensacola in the race for the other playoff spot. The Barons finish the season on the road against the Montgomery Biscuits.

The Mississippi Braves clinched first place in the Double-A South earlier in the week. The two teams with the best overall record in the Double-A South will meet in a best-of-five championship series starting Sept. 21.

The Blue Wahoos finish the season on the road against the Trash Pandas, whose manager, former major league star Jay Bell, is a Tate High grad and one of the all-time best players from the Pensacola area.

The six-game series begins Tuesday in Madison, Alabama, just outside of Huntsville, where Rocket City has played its inaugural season at newly-built Toyota Field.

The teams played way back on May 18-23 in Pensacola with the Blue Wahoos winning five of six.

“Our chances got limited pretty good,” said Randel, referring to the week. “But you try and win some ballgames (against Rocket City) and hope for the best and the other guys kinda battling it out. If we can just take care of business, hopefully, we’ll get some help and sneak into the playoffs.”

But if not, Randel has good memories of his first season in Pensacola, after coming into Blue Wahoos Stadium in past seasons as visiting manager with Jacksonville, then the Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.

The Blue Wahoos home record (33-27) was their fifth consecutive season with a winning home record. One-third of the home games (20) featured sellout crowds, including the final one on Saturday.

“Playing in Pensacola is great,” Randel said. “We have played well here at home. We had a good home record, one of the better ones in the league.”

by Bill Vilona, Blue Wahoos senior writer

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