Postseason baseball returned to Charleston with a scintillating marathon thriller Monday night at Appalachian Power Park.
Dario Pizzano lined an opposite-field single to left with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 13th, giving the Charleston Dirty Birds a 3-2 win over the Lexington Legends.
The 4-hour, 26-minute showdown gave the Dirty Birds a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Atlantic League South Division playoff series, which continues Tuesday and Wednesday night (if necessary) in Lexington, Kentucky. A win there in either game, both scheduled for 6:31 p.m., sends Charleston to the Atlantic League championship series.
Charleston manager Mark Minicozzi, who tested positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined and unable to attend the game, said, via text message after the finish, that Joe Testa would start for the Dirty Birds in Tuesday's game.
Five Charleston players -- third baseman Alberto Callaspo, shortstop Connor Kopach and pitchers Mike Broadway, Max Povse and Jack Weinberger -- also tested positive Monday and will be unavailable for the postseason.
Although he couldn't be at the game, Minicozzi was able to watch a video stream of the contest and communicated with his players on managerial decisions via text messaging.
Pizzano's hit off losing pitcher Bryan Quillens scored Teodoro Martinez, who singled with one out in the 13th and moved up on walks to Edwin Espinal and Olmo Rosario.
"It was awesome to come through for the team," said Pizzano, a left-handed hitter who went with an outside pitch on an 0-2 count to deliver the walk-off run. "We had to face obvious adversity, losing some guys to COVID, our manager … we thrive with adversity.
"We told each other before the game, let’s go out there and play, we’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s come together as a team, and as a family, and that’s what we did."
The win went to Dirty Birds reliever Dakota Freese, Charleston's seventh pitcher of the night. Lexington also used seven pitchers.
Tied at 1 after nine innings, Lexington scored an unearned run in the top of the 10th when Brandon Phillips scored the go-ahead run on a throwing error by Dirty Birds third baseman Jimmy Paredes.
Phillips, the former Cincinnati Reds second baseman, led off the 10th for Lexington with a single to center on a 3-2 pitch by Charleston reliever Junior Rincon. Jose Briceno followed with a walk.
After Eliardo Cabrera replaced Rincon on the mound, Lexington's Denis Phipps dropped a bunt down the third-base line that was ruled a hit, but Paredes' throw to first eluded Charleston first baseman Edwin Espinal, allowing Phillips to score. Cabrera prevented further damage in the inning, leaving the bases loaded.
Charleston answered in the bottom of the 10th. Francisco Arcia delivered a one-out hit to center. Matt Harrison, pinch-running for Arcia, scored the tying run one a two-out bouncing single to left by Scott Kelly, beating the throw on a bang-bang play at home plate.
Dirty Birds starter Arnoldo Hernandez allowed just two hits and one run in six innings. He finished his 79-pitch outing with nine strikeouts and no walks.
Lexington starter Francisco Jimenez was nearly as sharp, allowing one run on five hits in six innings.
The Legends scored first in the top of the fourth when Phillips' single to right scored Cole Sturgeon, who led off the inning with a double.
The Dirty Birds answered in the bottom of the fourth when Paredes led off with a double and scored on Pizzano's two-out single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch.
Charleston missed out on two prime scoring opportunities in the early innings. Rymer Liriano walked to lead off the bottom of the third but was caught stealing. Elmer Reyes followed with a base hit but was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on Kelly's double to left.
In the bottom of the fifth, Liriano led off with a triple to left-center but was stranded there when Reyes popped to second, Kelly grounded to third with the infield in and Martinez lined to right.
The attendance at Appalachian Power Park was announced at 2,647. Charleston averaged a league-low 1,581 during the regular season.
AWARD WINNERS: Before the start of the game, Charleston Dirty Birds President Chuck Domino announced team awards for the 2021 season.
Callaspo and Paredes were named Charleston's co-Most Valuable Players and Arik Sikula was named Pitcher of the Year.
Third baseman Callaspo, one of five players removed from Charleston's postseason roster after receiving a positive test for COVID-19 Monday, batted .335 (fifth in the league) and led the team with a .469 on-base percentage. Paredes led the Dirty Birds with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs and batted .308 while playing both the infield and outfield.
Sikula, who pitched in high school at Hurricane and South Charleston and in college at Marshall, led the Dirty Birds in wins (11, tied for third in the league), ERA (4.35, third) and strikeouts (103, fourth).
MEANWHILE, UP NORTH: The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs won the opener of the North Division series, defeating the Long Island Ducks 3-2 Monday night in front of a crowd of 4,342 in Central Islip, New York.
The Blue Crabs, who didn't clinch their postseason berth until the final day of the regular season on Sunday, can advance to the Atlantic League championship series with a win either Tuesday or Wednesday in Waldorf, Maryland.
NEW RULES SHELVED: Two rules that were used during the Atlantic League's regular season are not in effect during the playoffs.
The so-called double-hook rule, in which a team loses its designated hitter slot in the lineup when the starting pitcher is replaced by a reliever, will not be used.
Also, there will be no "ghost runner" placed at second base at the start of extra innings.