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The ValleyCats, as most winning teams do, got 27 outs on Thursday night. Unlike in most games, though, Tri-City’s fielders had little to do with that. The home team earned 16 strikeouts* while walking only three batters and evened their record with a 3-2 victory.
*Three more batters were put out 1-3, meaning the seven players in the field combined to make only eight plays on batted balls.
Nine of those K’s came from starter Juri Perez, who was lights-out in his five innings. Perez commanded his fastball well early on, throwing it 90-91 with good run into a righty’s hands and getting a few strikeouts with it, and often went to a high-70’s changeup as his out pitch.
Perez allowed two hits – a soft grounder through the left side and a line drive back up the box – and generated soft contact on his other balls in play, getting five of his six outs on grounders.
In his Opening Day start, Perez lost his command after four innings, eventually leading to a four-run rally that broke open the game. It looked like we might be headed for a repeat performance in the fourth inning of last night’s game, as Perez issued a one-out walk to Garin Cecchini, started the next batter with two balls and then fell behind Boss Monaroa 3-0, missing many fastballs badly. But Perez simply switched to his best pitch of the night, throwing three consecutive changeups to strike Monaroa out looking and end the inning.
But despite Perez’s performance and seven strikeouts from three other pitchers, the ValleyCats still entered the bottom of the eighth in a 2-2 tie, after the Spinners struck twice off Brad James in the top of the inning. Center fielder Justin Gominsky went the other way with the first pitch he saw, lifting a soft line drive over the first baseman’s head and a couple feet to the fair side of the chalk. Gominsky sprinted into second, beating the throw from shallow right field for a leadoff double.
“It’s always fair until it’s foul,” he said, pronouncing “foul” with a trademark Minnesotan accent (sounding more like “fall”). “I was running it out whether it was foul or not.”
Drew Muren reached on a perfectly-placed bunt single, putting runners on the corners with no outs for NYPL hits leader Matt Duffy. Duffy hit a grounder to shortstop Jose Garcia’s left; he took a look at Gominsky, who stopped, then flipped to second. Gominsky broke for home, the second baseman threw to first and completed the double play but allowed the game-winning run to score.
The perfect play would have been to get the out at second and then throw home; Gominsky is fast, but because he hesitated to watch the play unfold, a throw home from second probably would have had him out. But that’s a difficult and unnatural play to make; in hindsight, the Spinners probably wish they had played the infield all the way in, allowing Garcia to look Gominsky back and then throw out Duffy at first.
The quickest game of the year was finished in two hours, 27 minutes, but many of us were a bit surprised that it even started. Heavy rain fell overnight and in the morning, and lighter drops showered the field throughout the day, but the clouds cleared about 90 minutes before game time and held off throughout the evening.
More thoughts from the notebook:
-The Spinners started a few familiar faces, including the memorable double-play tandem of Jose Garcia and Joantoni Garcia, confusing broadcasters since 2010*. The team added a third J. Garcia over the winter, pitcher Jason. None are related to each other, however; they hail from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the Bronx, respectively, meaning Lowell only needs one from Cuba or somewhere to hit for the J. Garcia cycle.
*Lowell also has two Monaroas – first baseman Boss and outfielder Moko – brothers from Australia who were signed as international free agents in 2008. This is definitely the league’s most interesting roster to read.
-Fun fact: if Lowell left fielder Seth Schwindenhammer ever reaches the majors, he’ll have the longest name of anyone to wear an MLB jersey, breaking Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s record by one letter. Don’t get your hopes up too high, though; ‘Hammer’ is 3-for-20 with 13 strikeouts in his second time through the NYPL.
-Last night was not exactly an offensive showcase. The two teams combined for 25 strikeouts and just 11 hits, two of which were bunt singles (Muren’s in the eighth and Gominsky’s, which stopped atop the third-base chalk, in the third).
-Officially, catcher Miles Hamblin has one professional stolen base, a successful steal of home. The full story is a lot less exciting, however – Hector Rodriguez attempted a suicide squeeze with Hamblin on third in the seventh inning and missed, but the catcher could not cleanly handle the pitch. According to the literal interpretation of the lovely Rule 10, if a runner starts towards the next base on the pitch and the play would ordinarily be ruled a wild pitch or passed ball, it goes down as a stolen base, with no exceptions for a play at the plate. It was a confusing play even in real time, as most of us thought Rodriguez had fouled the pitch back and Hamblin would be sent back.
-The Cats’ 16 strikeouts is a league-high for a nine-inning game this season. Staten Island, remarkably, has struck out 17 in each of its past two games, but both went to extras.
-Reason #136,251 why the win statistic is flawed: Brad James got the win on Thursday for being the game’s least effective pitcher, blowing a 2-0 lead in the eighth but watching his offense score in the bottom of the inning. Wins are a bad tool for evaluating starting pitchers, for reasons that have been well-discussed by now, but for relievers they are completely useless.
If you’re reading this while locked inside a windowless room with no means of escape, then I suppose you have an excuse for not being at the ballpark for tonight’s game, but you can still listen live online. Jonas Dufek vs. Raynel Velette, first pitch at 7:00.