UNIVERSITY PARK — The State College Spikes quickly entered a precarious position Monday against the wrong team.
They trailed first-place Auburn 7-0 after 23 minutes. The remaining 2 hours and 11 minutes also proved agonizing as the Spikes fell 12-1 at soggy Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The first-inning details are gory: 12 Doubledays batted, seven scored, six collected hits and Jason Creasy and Clario Perez combined to throw 44 pitches.
The inning foreshadowed another bleak night.
The Spikes mustered three hits off Pedro Encarnacion, Jack McGeary and Bryan Harper. Auburn had 16 hits off Creasy, Perez, Logan Pevny, Dalton Friend and Tom Harlan.
The game represented a microcosm of the Spikes’ month. With multiple key players, including energetic outfielders Barrett Barnes and Tyler Gaffney and consistent catcher Ryan Hornback out with injuries, the Spikes failed to produce offensive zest.
Gaffney, a New York-Penn League All-Star with a .483 on-base percentage, missed his fourth straight game because of a shoulder injury and will have it examined today. Barnes, a supplemental first-round draft pick who suffered a season-ending ankle injury, is tied for the team lead with five homers despite playing just 38 games.
The Spikes (31-35) have failed to eclipse three runs in 13 of their 24 August games. They are 8-16 in the month and have watched the gap between themselves and the Pinckney Division-leading Doubledays (40-27) expand from 11⁄2 to 81⁄2 games.
Spotting a team any runs hurts the Spikes.
Spotting an opponent seven eliminates realistic rally hopes, especially considering the Spikes rank last in the 14-team league with 117 extra-base hits.
“If you look at our Opening Day lineup and our lineup today, it’s not ideal,” manager Dave Turgeon said. “But the guys that are here are coming to work every day. Obviously, offensively, we aren’t going to come back and score nine runs. We have done it once all year. It then becomes hard for them to put together one quality at-bat at a time and it’s utter panic because it’s just too much to overcome.”
Stalling the Doubledays represents a tough assignment even for a robust team. Their nine position players all entered Monday hitting .247 or higher. Nos. 3-5 hitters Shawn Pleffner, Brandon Miller and Estarlin Martinez went a combined 7-for-13 and scored five runs.
Pleffner drove one of Tom Harlan’s ninth-inning pitches over the right-field wall. The Doubledays also dumped some balls into favorable spots, with Carlos Lopez hitting a three-run bloop single between shortstop Chris Diaz, left fielder Jon Schwind and center fielder Walker Gourley with two outs and the bases loaded in the first.
The game represented an encouraging start to an extended journey. The Doubledays, who hold a 21⁄2-game lead over Batavia, end the regular season with 10 straight road games.
“It’s crazy,” said Pleffner, who went 3-for-5. “Four different cities, 10 days — everybody is tired at this point. Just the fact that we are in first place is really pushing us through.
Note: Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain will attend Wednesday’s season finale against Auburn and sign autographs from 6 p.m. until the seventh inning. McLain, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, is Major League Baseball’s last 30-game winner. He went 31-6 for the Tigers in 1968.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy