PORTLAND – For the first time in six years, the “P” word is being uttered at Hadlock Field.

And Portland Sea Dogs manager Ron Johnson’s office is starting to get a little crowded.

“Players and coaches are coming in here and checking the standings,” said Johnson.

But if the Sea Dogs are going to make the Eastern League playoffs for the first time since 1997, it won’t be an easy road.

First-place Portland began a stretch of 40 games in 36 days by splitting a doubleheader with the Trenton Thunder at sold-out Hadlock Field Monday night.

“I know it’s a little early, but I keep up with (the standings) every day,” said catcher Kelly Shoppach, who had a pair of RBI singles in the Sea Dogs’ 4-2 victory in the opener. “I want to be the one on top that everyone’s trying to knock down.”

The Thunder scored both of their runs on wild pitches to ruin a solid outing by Brett Rudrude while taking the nightcap 2-1.

Rudrude, who arrived earlier in the day from Florida, allowed just three hits through five innings before falling apart in the sixth.

Brian Myrow walked to lead off the inning and went to third on Dioner Navarro’s single.

Rudrude (1-2) then bounced an 0-2 pitch off home plate as Myrow scored to tie it.

After a ground out, Rudrude’s 3-2 pitch to Mitch Jones got past catcher Brian Loyd, allowing Navarro to score the go-ahead run.

Sean McGowan’s RBI single in the bottom of the first had given Portland a 1-0 lead.

Eddy Candelario (5-5) gave up three hits over five innings to pick up the win.

David Shepard struck out Jeremy Owens and Raul Nieves with two men on in the bottom of the seventh as the Thunder avoided being swept.

Trailing 1-0 in the opener, the Sea Dogs banged out five straight hits and scored three times in the bottom of the third inning against Thunder starter Javier Ortiz (6-8).

Carlos Leon led off the inning with a singled and stole second. Justin Headley singled up the middle to tie the game and scored himself on Kevin Youkilis’ triple into the right-field corner.

Shoppach capped off the outburst with check-swing single to make it 3-1.

With two men on and one out in the fourth, Shoppach’s single to center field ended Ortiz’s night.

Ryan Cameron got the win for the Sea Dogs after allowing six hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings.

Cameron (2-0) struggled with his command, but walked just one while striking out three.

“I got behind a lot,” said Cameron, “But I battled back even. My fastball had a good sink to it. I kept it down and luckily they’re an aggressive team and rolled some over.”

Myrow doubled leading off the top of the sixth and one out later committed a baserunning gaffe, making it only to third base on Mike Vento’s double off the base of the wall in right field

Scott Aldred replaced Cameron and allowed a sacrifice fly before getting out of the inning.

Aldred struck out two while retiring the side in order in the top of the seventh to record his second save.

The Sea Dogs’ lead over second-place New Haven fell to a half of a game. The Ravens beat Harrisburg 8-6.

Portland and New Haven close out the season with eight straight games.

“I think it’s really going to come down to that last week,” said Shoppach.

Sea Dogs notes: Youkilis walked in the first inning of the second game to extend his on-base streak to 62 games….Josh Stevens became the 10th pitcher in franchise history to win 10 games in a season when he beat Norwich Sunday. Stevens was the second fastest to reach the mark. Tony Saunders won his 10th on July 20, 1996….In a paper move, Stevens was sent down to short-season Lowell to make room on the roster for Rudrude, who will return to Class-A Sarasota today….Stevens will be activated in time for his next start on Friday in Binghamton….Trenton swept Eastern League honors for the week ending on July 27. Navarro was named Player of the Week after hitting .552 (16-for-29) with two home runs and nine RBIs in seven games. Brad Halsey was tabbed as Pitcher of the Week. The left-hander went 2-0 and struck out 14 in 15 innings…Junior Herndon (6-4, 5.04 ERA) opposes Trenton’s Andy Beal (5-0, 3.32) in the first game of tonight’s twin bill at 6 p.m. Charlie Weatherby (2-2, 6.25) will make his first start of the season in the nightcap against a pitcher to be determined….Tonight’s doubleheader and tomorrow’s noon game are both sold out. The Aug. 8th and 9th games against Binghamton are also sold out and about 300 tickets remain for the Aug. 7th and 10th contests with the Mets.


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