This one seemed to be shaping up Omaha’s way.
Storm Chasers starting pitcher Danny Duffy was coming off a win over the Detroit Tigers.
Reliever Francisley Bueno made the perfect pitches required to escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam.
Brett Hayes and Gorkys Hernandez hit clutch back-to-back, seventh-inning homers to tie the game against a pitcher who doesn’t surrender the long ball.
And reliever Will Smith was looking as sharp as ever.
But everything isn’t always what it seems.
New Orleans’ Nick Green hit the first pitch of the ninth inning well over the left field wall and lifted the Zephyrs to a 6-5 victory before 4,581 Wednesday night at Werner Park.
“That’s how quickly a game can turn,” Omaha manager Mike Jirschele said.
The Storm Chasers (65-67) lost their third straight game, while Memphis won its third straight, and suddenly Omaha’s lead in the PCL’s American Conference North — which was at five games on Sunday — is down to two.
There are 12 games left in the season.
“We could have won another game in Memphis (where the losing streak started), and we could have won this game,” Jirschele said. “But that’s the way this division has been all year. There haven’t been a lot of long streaks — at least not any long winning streaks.”
Omaha trailed 5-2 before former Zephyrs Hayes and Hernandez (90 games this season) connected.
It was the second homer of the game for Hayes, who also went deep in the fifth, giving him team highs of 13 homers and four multi-homer games. The rest of the team has combined for one multi-homer game. It was Hayes’ fourth game back in Class AAA since clearing waivers after a brief stint in Kansas City.
“We don’t have a lot of power,” Jirschele said. “He helps us. And he gives us a veteran presence and does a good job with the pitching staff.”
The homer by Hernandez was his second in 26 games since being traded to Omaha and his sixth overall. The center fielder also threw ex-teammate Jake Smolinski out at third with a perfect one-hop throw in the second inning when Smolinski tried to tag up from second base on a flyout.
Both of Omaha’s seventh-inning homers came off veteran reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, who had allowed only one homer in 68 innings this season.
So it was all looking good when Smith came to the mound and pitched a quick eighth and returned for the ninth.
“I was feeling really good at that point,” Jirschele said.
Adam Reifer (2-1) pitched 1 2⁄3 scoreless innings for the win, and Chris Hatcher worked the ninth for his league-high 32nd save.
Duffy had flirted with a no-hitter Friday against the Tigers, pitching six one-hit shutout innings, outdueling a Cy Young Award winner in Justin Verlander and beating one of baseball’s most dangerous offensive teams — the Miguel Cabrera-led Tigers.
But he had a bit more trouble against the Zephyrs.
Kevin Kouzmanoff doubled and scored on an RBI single by Smolinski to put New Orleans up 1-0 in the second.
Omaha came back to take a 2-1 lead on Pedro Ciriaco’s second-inning RBI single and Hayes’ leadoff homer in the fifth, but Duffy’s night ended after New Orleans loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth on singles by Smolinski and Jordan Brown and a walk to Kyle Jensen.
Then the Chasers’ defense failed reliever Bueno, who pitched well enough to get out of the inning without allowing a run. Instead all three inherited runners scored, and another who reached against Bueno did, too, after two errors.
Bueno got Rob Brantly to hit a ground ball to first baseman Ben Broussard, but Broussard booted it for an error as a run scored. Then Bueno got Aury Ciriaco to hit a double-play ball, but Chasers shortstop Pedro Ciriaco threw wildly to second. Another run scored as Chris Valaika grounded into a double play.
New Orleans led 5-2.
“Bueno did a great job,” Jirschele said. “He gets a ground ball to first for what should have been a force out (at home) and then a double-play ball and we should have been out of it. Instead it’s a four-run inning.”
Duffy was charged with four runs — two earned — on seven hits in five innings, while walking three and striking out eight.
“You feel pretty good about your chances after what he did (against the Tigers), but there’s also a little more adrenaline in the majors than there is in Triple A,” Jirschele said. “He threw well, but he wasn’t as sharp, didn’t have the command he needed.”
» A matchup of two of the league’s top left-handers is on tap for Thursday, as New Orleans’ Brian Flynn faces Omaha’s Chris Dwyer. Both have sub-.500 records (Flynn is 6-10, Dwyer 9-10), but Flynn is second in the league in ERA (3.00) and Dwyer (3.52) is fifth.
» Will Smith was just optioned to Omaha by Kansas City. A roster spot with the Chasers was available as outfielder Paulo Orlando was placed on the temporary inactive list.
» Omaha’s Pedro Ciriaco and New Orleans’ Aury Ciriaco are brothers.
» Omaha became the 12th team since joining the PCL in 1998 to have its pitching staff record 1,100 strikeouts. The league record is 1,228, set by Iowa in 2001.
» Mike Jirschele was recognized in a midgame announcement for having managed his 2,000th game with Omaha on Tuesday night in Memphis.