Kean Wong was still walking on air in the Bulls clubhouse after a 10-6 win Sunday night. His eyes sparkled and he broke into a broad smile — the reflexive kind that can’t be contained — when he was asked about that belt-high, 3-1 pitch in the second inning.
“I knew after that changeup he was coming fastball,” Wong said. “Right when I hit it I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a home run.” He doesn’t get a lot of those. It was just his second dinger of the season. But that wasn’t the sweetest part.
“It’s my first grand slam ever, and it’s the best feeling in the world,” Wong said. “After I got the hit I’m pretty sure I lit a fire under everyone, and I knew we were going to win the game.”
After scoring 36 runs, sweeping the three-game series, and running their record against Charlotte to 11-2 this season, the International League South-leading Bulls open a four-game series at Indianapolis on Monday.
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“It’s fun coming into the clubhouse because everyone’s happy, and we’re winning ball games,” Wong said. “The fans are happy, and our skipper’s happy, so it’s just awesome right now.”
“It was definitely an impressive offensive outburst in this series,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. “There was just a little hiccup there in the eighth inning” when the Knights put together a six-run, two-out rally.
“We were managing the strike zone very well. Today I thought we did a fantastic job with two strikes,” Sandberg said. “We weren’t panicking and trying to do too much,” and didn’t miss too many pitches.
He said starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough (7-4) had a strong outing, pitching 5 1/3 innings, fanning eight and allowing five hits to pick up the win. Knights starter Tyler Danish (1-6) was tagged with the loss.
While Yarbrough doesn’t have high velocity, “He mixes and matches the changeup and the slider, and uses a fastball [effectively],” Sandberg said.
Yarbrough was lifted from the game in the sixth inning after Knights first baseman Grant Green lined a sharp infield single off his left quadriceps.
“The thing kind of came back in a hurry,” Yarbrough said. “It’s kind of a liability as a pitcher.”
He doesn’t expect to miss a start, and hopes to get some throws in on Monday.
“It’s a little stiff, but as of right now I’m moving around pretty well,” Yarbrough said after getting iced down post-game in the locker room.
“Everything felt really good. I tried to attack the zone, tried to be aggressive, especially when we got that lead early,” Yarbrough said.
Wong was the man of the hour with bases full in the bottom of the second. The lefty swinging second baseman uncorked a rocket into the right field seats for a 5-0 lead.
Designated hitter Curt Casali got the rally started with a one-out single to center. Left fielder Cade Gotta followed with a single to center, and third baseman Alec Sole walked to load the bases. Center fielder Johnny Field lined a single to left to score Casali for a 1-0 lead, with the bases still brimming for Wong.
The Bulls padded their lead with a 3-run outburst in the bottom of the fifth, sparked by a leadoff triple down the right field line by shortstop Willy Adames.
“As soon as I hit the ball I was like, ‘I’m going to third.’ I do that every time I hit a liner to right field and right center. I’m always thinking three, every time.” He now has five triples.
“I’ve been swinging pretty good,” Adames said. He was 3-5 at the plate Sunday for his third straight multi-hit game.
Right fielder Patrick Leonard smacked his 18th double of the season down the left field line to score Adames, and first baseman Casey Gillaspie singled Leonard home. Catcher Mike Marjama singled to left, but got thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Gillaspie went to third on the play. Casali then singled to center, driving home Gillaspie for the 8-0 lead.
The Bulls extended the lead to 10-0 in the sixth inning. Gillaspie ripped a wicked 2-run, two-out double down the third base line. Field and Wong, who reached on back-to-back singles to open the inning, scored. Gillaspie now has multi-hit performances in four of his last five games, and has reached base safely in nine straight games.
The Knights broke up the shutout in the top of the eighth with a rapid 6-run rally off reliever Jeff Ames. Green planted a two-out double in center field, scoring center fielder Jacob May and pushing right fielder Rymer Liriano, to third. They had reached base on back-to-back singles.
After left fielder Jason Bourgeois walked, Ames threw a wild pitch, allowing Liriano to score. Marjama chased the ball down, but threw wildly to Ames covering home, and Green scored on the throwing error. Ames walked catcher Carson Blair, then surrendered a 3-run homer to right by third baseman Ronald Bueno.
In off-field news, Bulls left-handed pitcher Blake Snell (5-0) is rejoining Tampa Bay after a short stint with the parent club earlier in the season. He is listed as their starting pitcher against Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Snell struck out 61 batters in 44 innings with a 2.66 ERA after being sent back down to Durham.