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COLUMBUS, Ohio – The last time the Columbus Clippers held the lead in the International League West was on April 7, the second day of the season. What seems to be a lifetime ago has become a reality more than four months later as the Clippers have taken sole possession of first place in the division (67-56) after edging out a 2-0 victory over the Syracuse Chiefs on Friday night at Huntington Park.
Largely due to a 12-6 start to the month of August and 11 wins in their last 14 games, the Clippers continuation of success on Friday started on the mound where starting pitcher Stephen Fife made his return from the disabled list to take the ball for Columbus.
In his first inning of work since August 7, Fife took care of business, sitting down Syracuse’s top of the order, including the Washington National’s top prospect, Victor Robles. After giving up a one-out single to Yadiel Hernandez in the second, Fife retired the next five batters and allowed only one more hit during his four innings of action. Fife finished with a stat line of no runs on two hits and two strikeouts in four innings pitched.
Dialed in during his return, Fife received his first dose of offense in the form of the Cleveland Indians’ No. 7-ranked prospect, Bobby Bradley. On a 1-0 pitch in the top of the second, Bradley launched a leadoff home run over the left field wall to tally his first dinger in a Columbus uniform and give the Clippers a 1-0 lead after two innings of play.
Bradley, who was called up from Double-A Akron on August 2, is happy to get his chance in Columbus with a number of close friends and relieved to get that first long ball at the next level.
“This is a great team with a great bunch of guys. I got the opportunity to play with them during spring training and we all kind of got that bond together, and when I came in it was like coming home. It’s like playing with a lot of friends; we just get out there and have fun. As far as the home run, it’s just a big relief and all glory be to God on that. Other than that, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The Clippers tallied another insurance run in the fifth after newly acquired Oscar Mercado sent a one-out double over the centerfielder’s glove before being driven home by Brandon Barnes with an RBI double. Mercado, who debuted in Columbus on the same day as Bradley (August 2), would wind up putting the Clippers ahead, 2-0.
After struggling to find a hit in his previous five games with the club, Mercado went 1-for-1 with a double, two walks and two stolen bases in Friday night’s victory. Friday’s performance is much more telling of the player that the Indians acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals back on July 31, and Mercado is looking to return to that type of success as well.
“Tonight was a good night, it was something I needed mentally and something that I think will help me moving forward,” claimed Mercado. “Just being confident is the biggest thing, knowing what you can do…to me, that’s the biggest part. I think yesterday’s day off did me well, took some time off to really look back on some things and work on it today.”
Both runs from Bradley and Mercado would prove to be enough as the bullpen arms of Myles Jaye, Henry Martinez, and Ben Taylor combined for five innings of hitless baseball with three strikeouts and the 11th save of the season for Taylor en route to a 2-0 victory.
After taking the first two games of the series, the Clippers will return to Huntington Park on Saturday, August 18 as they look to capture the series from Syracuse. First-pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.