A record crowd of 10,643 fans filled BB&T BallPark Friday night with the promise of fireworks following the game. But in his first at-bat, Charlotte Knights outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo started his own exhibition.
Behind two home runs from Tuiasosopo, including a first-inning grand slam, the Knights pushed past the Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7-5 to increase their lead to 11/2 games atop the International League South Division.
After a leadoff double by Leury Garcia to open the bottom of the first inning, Tyler Saladino and Neftali Soto drew walks to load the bases. Two batters later, Tuiasosopo crushed a home run to dead center to give the Knights (28-20) an early 4-0 lead.
Leading off the bottom of the third inning, Tuiasosopo strolled to the plate again and rocketed a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall to give Charlotte a comfortable 6-1 lead.
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RHP Brad Penny pitched four innings, and LHP Sean Hagan – who received a call at about 11:30 p.m. on Thursday informing him he was being called up from the Winston-Salem Dash – pitched three innings of scoreless relief to earn the win.
The IronPigs (19-31) scored four runs between the eight and ninth innings to pull within two runs, but Tuiasosopo almost singlehandedly provided the Knights the cushion they needed to seal the victory.
“He has a good changeup. Those types of pitchers are really tough. They’re always subtracting velocity then they’ll try to sneak a fastball by you to slow you down again with a changeup. ... But I just really tried to stay back, keep my hands back and drive the ball up the middle.” – Tuiasosopo on his two home runs.
In his first game back in Charlotte, former Knight and current IronPig outfielder Jordan Danks went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. ... Penny exited the game after four innings of work with an apparent leg injury. On the final out of the fourth inning, Penny injured himself while covering first base and came up lame. He limped down the first-base line before walking off the field gingerly.
The Knights and IronPigs will play Game 2 of their three-game series at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday. RHP Erik Johnson (4-3, 3.60) will take the hill for Charlotte and go up against Lehigh Valley LHP Anthony Vasquez (1-0, 1.69).