HAGERSTOWN —Errors are baseball’s version of a black hole.
Hagerstown Suns pitcher A.J. Cole fell in one on Wednesday.
A leadoff error in the fourth inning pulled the mound from under Cole, and Hickory covered him with a four-run fifth to score a 5-2 victory over the Suns at Municipal Stadium in a decision that further damaged Hagerstown’s playoff hopes.
Cole (4-7) dazzled Hickory for three innings until a bobble by second baseman Adrian Sanchez allowed Odubel Herrera to reach first to lead off the fourth. It punched the down button on the rest of Cole’s night.
“A.J. was dominant for three innings but that leadoff error in the fourth hurt,” said Suns manager Brian Daubach. “It made him throw a lot more pitches in the inning and they ended up getting to him.”
The error ended up costing Cole pitches to three more batters, including Tomas Telis’ two-out double down the left-field line to give Hickory a 1-0 lead. The pitches were crucial to the 19-year-old Cole, who had been cruising but is on a tight pitch count in his first professional season.
Hickory (73-53, 33-25) broke Cole’s hold and then broke the game open with a four-run fifth inning to send the Suns (71-57, 31-27) to their fourth loss in the last five games. Hagerstown remained four games behind division-leading Kannapolis — which suffered a 3-2 loss in the ninth inning to Augusta — but fell to fourth place.
The Crawdads put Cole through the ringer in the fifth as Braxton Lake, Jake Skole and Herrera each singled with one out to load the bases, setting up Jurickson Profar for his drive to the base of the fence in left for a bases-clearing triple to chase Cole from the game.
“(Hickory’s) lineup hits well from one through nine,” Daubach said. “There were a couple of balls that just found holes and then Profar comes up with the big hit.”
Shane McCatty came on in relief and allowed Christian Villanueva’s sacrifice fly to left to score Profar for a 5-2 lead.
Cole pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits while walking one and striking out five.
The Suns came back from the 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the fourth to briefly take a 2-1 lead. Kevin Keyes hit Hickory starter Nick Tepesch’s first pitch over the fence in left for his 15th home run of the season to tie the game. Tepesch followed the homer by hitting Jason Martinson with a pitch. Martinson stole second and scored on Wade Moore’s two-out double down the left-field line to put the Suns on top.
Jose Monegro replaced Tepesch in the fifth and shut down the Suns for three hitless innings with five strikeouts to get the win. Roman Mendoza, the Crawdads’ fourth pitcher, pitched the ninth for the save. The Suns managed one hit and two base runners in the final five innings.
“That was the first time we faced (Monegro),” Daubach said. “(The Texas Rangers organization has) a lot of talent in the field and pitching, and we have seen some of their good arms the last couple days. We just have to come out and try to even the series tomorrow.”