LOWELL -- The Lowell Spinners put on quite a show on Friday night, as they opened their 19th season of baseball on the banks of the Merrimack River.
The shame of it all was the fact that empty green seats far outnumbered the spectators at LeLacheur Park. Despite the fact that the game was a sellout (based on ticket sales), a morning and afternoon of heavy rain, and an overcast, gloomy night clearly scared fans away.
The game started on time, but the ballpark never filled. It was an aberration in Lowell, where attendance is usually strong and a packed stadium is the norm on Opening Night.
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What the fans missed out on was a potent overall performance that resulted in a 7-2 Spinners victory over the Vermont Lake Monsters. The pitching was sharp, the offense showed some pop (11 hits, six extra-base hits), and the defense was tidy.
"I think playing in these conditions, it was a well-played ballgame," said Spinners manager Joe Oliver. "The guys were really focused on making plays on those groundballs and not trying to do too much. We showed that we can have some mature at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"One thing about baseball is you can't really turn it on and turn it off. You have to stay focused and I think the guys did a good job, knowing that it was Opening Day. It's tough to go out there when you see it raining all day long and play in a mist like that."
Lowell shortstop Mauricio Dubon (2-for-4) provided the loudest fireworks -- that is, of course until the actual fireworks show that followed the game. Dubon, a 26th-round draft pick in 2013, crushed an inside fastball for a two-run home run over the left field wall in the fifth to give the hosts a commanding 5-1 lead.
It was a great sign for the Spinners, who hit a franchise record-low 15 home runs in 2013 -- putting them dead-last in the New York-Penn League.
"I was just trying to hit the ball hard. I wasn't looking for it or anything," said the 160-pound Dubon. "He kept throwing me sliders away, so I kind of guessed on that one -- close my eyes and swing."
Right fielder Nick Longhi went 3-for-4 with a double, triple and two runs scored. Third baseman Deiner Lopez had two hits, including a double, and scored two runs.
On the mound, the trio of righties Jason Garcia (four innings), Willie Ethington (three innings) and Carlos Pinales (two innings) combined for a six-hitter with 12 strikeouts. Ethington got the win, while Pinales earned the save.
Garcia started and was on a rehab assignment after coming back from Tommy John surgery. His fastball reached the low-90s.
"You're a little leery when you have a guy coming back from injury in these conditions. But he didn't let it get to him," said Oliver of Garcia. "It seemed like he started feeling the groove on his fastball and establishing it pretty well. I thought it was a good overall outing."
As a former Major League catcher, Oliver was also happy to see his backstop Alixon Suarez throw out three potential base stealers.
"He did an outstanding job handling the pitching staff," said Oliver. "He's been very consistent for us throwing to bases in extended spring, and he's just carrying that over for us."
Vermont, an affiliate of the Oakland A's, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Dayton Alexander reached on the only Spinners' error and later came around to score on a double by Kyle Wheeler (2-for-4).
But the Spinners captured the lead for good in the bottom of the second thanks to an RBI double by Suarez and an RBI single by David Sopilka.
Watching from the dugout was 36-year-old outfielder Andres Torres, who was signed to a minor league deal by the Red Sox on Wednesday and assigned to Lowell. Torres was a productive starting center fielder for the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Last August, he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury while playing for the Giants, and hasn't played since.
He should make his Spinners debut soon, and when he does he will become to oldest player ever to play in a game for Lowell.
"He's been shut down for quite some time. So this is a mini spring training for him," said Oliver. "He's trying to catch up. When you're 36, your body doesn't respond as quickly as when you're 26. He'll get some opportunities here pretty soon."
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