A seventh inning grand slam by top prospect Bradley Zimmer broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh and the Clippers held on as Columbus defeated the Gwinnett Braves, 6-4, on Thursday night from Huntington Park.
Gwinnett’s Rob Wooten took over for starter Aaron Blair in the bottom of the seventh and promptly walked Yandy Diaz. A single by Guillermo Quiroz put Diaz into scoring position, but Giovanny Urshela lined out to center and Jesus Aguilar struck out. Michael Choice walked, loading the bases for the young Clippers outfielder, who delivered the clutch two-out bases-clearing bomb to right to give Columbus a 6-2 lead.
After a pair of walks and a strikeout from Jeff Johnson to start the eighth, Josh Martin came on in relief for Chris Tremie and loaded the bases with a walk to Daniel Castro, who had a big game in the playoff opener on Wednesday. Emilio Bonifacio singled to short, scoring pinch-runner Matt Lipka from third to cut the lead to three runs, but Martin got Reid Brignac to pop to short and struck out Ronnier Mustelier swinging.
Martin allowed a leadoff homer to Sean Kazmar to start the ninth, cutting the score to 6-4, but he got the final three outs to wrap up the ball game, evening the series between the two clubs at one win each.
The Clippers took an early lead in the first against Blair. Diaz singled, moved to second on a single from Urshela, and advanced to third on a walk from Aguilar. A sacrifice fly from Choice drove home Diaz with the game’s first run.
Columbus made it a 2-0 lead in the third as rehabbing Indians catcher Yan Gomes homered to left.
Gwinnett tied the game up in the top of the next inning against Ryan Merritt. Kazmar doubled to center and scored on a one-out single from Tyler Moore, who was erased trying to stretch his hit to a double. A walk by Matt Tuiasosopo with two down kept the inning alive and the Braves got singles from Blake Lalli and Castro to drive home Tuiasosopo to tie the game. Bonifacio loaded the bases with a third straight single, but reliever Craig Stammen got Brignac to ground to second to end the rally.
The series now shifts to Georgia as the final three games will be played from Gwinnett, as necessary. Left-hander Shawn Morimando (15-5, 3.25 ERA) will start for the Clippers in Game 3, while the Braves will send right-hander Chris Ellis (12-9, 4.49).
Game time from the Peach State is scheduled for 7:05 PM ET on Friday.
Photo: Jonathan Quilter/The Columbus Dispatch