Alexandria had to contend with swirling winds, plummeting temperatures, a soggy field, and Hagerstown as the Dukes beat the Suns, 2-1, in the Class A Carolina League opener for both clubs before a crowd of 647 last night at Four Mile Run Park.
Alexandria right-hander Tim Wheeler, the winning pitcher, allowed three hits and one run in five innings, striking out eight. First baseman Nick Castaneda supplied the offense with a home run in the second inning to right field.
"It was certainly a good game for us," said first-year Dukes manager Johnny Lipon, who managed the Cleveland Indians in 1971. "This early in the year the pitchers still have the edge on the hitters, but we still made some nice defensive plays and got our share of hits. I don't know that the cold was a factor though."
The temperature at game-time was listed at 44 degrees and there was little wind. But by the fifth inning, strong winds had brought on a wind-chill factor below 30 degrees and reduced the crowd to less than 200.
Wheeler, who had not pitched in more than a week, appeared to be gaining strength before being removed after the fifth. His replacements, right-handers Johnny Taylor and Wilfrido Cordova each threw two innings and allowed no runs. Taylor, who pitched for Buffalo in the Class AA Eastern League in 1981, allowed two hits and struck out three. Cordova struck out four.
For Hagerstown, the 1981 league champion, right-hander Ken Dixon was equally impressive. He allowed just four hits in seven business-like innings, striking out five and walking four.
"He was tough to hit," said Castaneda, who got his homer on a fast ball with the count 1-2. "I think we're a better hitting ball club than we were tonight and the cold made it hard to get a real feel for the bat."
Hagerstown tied the score in the fourth, as shortstop Andy Timko led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a one-to-three fielders choice. Timko then scored on third baseman Rocky Cusak's single to left. But Wheeler struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning.
Alexandria regained the lead for good in the fourth as left fielder Joe Orsulak led off with a single and then stole second. After a long fly out to center by Castaneda, designated hitter Brad Garnett hit a run-scoring single to left.
The Dukes kept the pressure on as Garnett stole second and the next hitter, right fielder Jim Felt, one of the two remaining players from last year's team, reached on an error. But third baseman Andy Snaith's fly to right doubled Felt off first to end the inning.