What could Michael Farnell do for the Bismarck Larks as an encore after hitting an inside-the-park homer in a win over Eau Claire on Saturday? How about an outside-the-park blast?
Farnell, a catcher playing first base due to an injury, slammed a three-run seventh-inning homer to center field as the Larks beat the Express 3-2 Sunday at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.
With the win, the Larks (23-11) pulled within a half game of Duluth for first place and an automatic North Division playoff berth. The first half ends after Tuesday night’s games.
The Larks continued rolling despite the absence of two big sticks from the lineup. First baseman Matt Warkentin missed his first game of the season with a sore foot and right fielder Kyle Stevens was injured in Saturday’s 5-1 win. That took eight homers, 46 runs batted in and 50 runs out of the lineup.
But the Larks rode another strong pitching effort from Jeff Lindgren and two relievers to their eighth win in 10 games.
“This is a good team and good teams overcome adversity,” Larks coach Sean Repay said. “That’s the best part of our team, we never use anything as an excuse.”
With Farnell at first, Braden Williams started at catcher. He walked twice and threw out two runners trying to steal. Chase Coker went to right for Stevens and Carson Bartels had a hit in his start at third base.
For the second straight game, the Larks rallied for a win against the Eau Claire bullpen. Express starter Justin Slaten pitched five innings of scoreless ball to drop his Northwoods League-leading earned run average to 0.76. Austin George came on in relief and gave up Farnell’s bomb to take the loss.
“We got (Slaten) out of the game because we worked it,” Repay said of the Larks’ patience at the plate.
Slaten struck out three, but walked five and hit another. He worked out of bases-loaded jams in the first and third innings. In the first, he fielded a come-back liner and doubled Wyatt Ulrich off third base. He struck out Coker in the third to strand three men.
The Express (13-21) took a 1-0 lead when Cody Milligan reached base on a fielder’s choice and went to third on Garrett Gouldsmith’s single to right. He scored on Ryan Bishop’s sac fly to center.
Lindgren, a veteran returnee from last season, was dominant from that point on. He went 7 2/3 innings and gave up eight hits and two runs in what may have been his last appearance as a Lark. He is leaving for a baseball training center, but vowed to return if the Larks reach the playoffs.
“This is going to be one of the hardest summer goodbyes I’ve ever had,” Repay said. “He was with us from the beginning to what we are today. We didn’t plot it out (a matchup with Slaten) but it just panned out. It was a big game.”
Tristen Hudson pitched an inning and Colan Borchers got the last out for the save to give Lindgren the win.
“(Repay) threw me in there and said ‘give me your best’ and I did what I could do,” Lindgren said. “I was just trying to do the best I could in my last outing.”
Lindgren threw 106 pitchers, 70 of those strikes.
“I just filled up the zone and trusted my defense,” Lindgren pointed out. “Farnell hit that three-run bomb to give me the lead and that was all we needed.”
George worked out of a jam in the sixth but gave up back-to-back singles to Ulrich and Ripken Reyes to open the seventh. With one out, Farnell hit his long home run for a 3-1 lead.
“I took advantage of a bad pitch,” Farnell said. “I caught it on the fat part of the bat today.”
Farnell said it was big to get Slaten out of the game as early as possible.
“If they get into a roll, they’re just going to mow you down,” he said. “We needed long at-bats to get that pitch count up.”
Lindgren’s pitch count entering the eighth was 95. He got a quick out before Jimmy Glowenke doubled to left and went to third on a wild pitch. He scored on Andrew Pratt’s ground out and Repay went to the bullpen.
Hudson got the last out of the eighth and first two in the ninth before Borchers came on with a runner on first and two outs in the ninth. Borchers got Noah Sifrit to ground to second to end the game.
Bismarck finishes the first half with home games against St. Cloud tonight and Tuesday.