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Friday night’s doubleheader was Farm & Agriculture Night at “The Joe,” with the NYS Farm Bureau and Cabot Creamery educating fans about local producers. The Dairy Princess, Marilyn Lamb, threw out a strike with one of our ceremonial first pitches and was escorted to the pitchers mound by Dean Casey, the president of the Rensselaer County Farm Bureau.
A select number of fans also received a 10th Anniversary canvas print as they entered the ballpark. This commemorative giveaway was made from a picture of pre-game ceremonies at “The Joe.”
Right fielder Drew Muren was named the South End Tavern Player of the Game. Along with a South End gift certificate, he earned a pie in the face courtesy of Charlie.
After playing three games in two days at Connecticut, the ValleyCats traveled down to the city to face the Staten Island Yankees this weekend. Richmond County Bank Ballpark is one of the best stadiums in the New York-Penn League, and offers unquestionably the nicest view:
The players appreciated the stadium and its location, a nice treat in a league with ballparks that vary greatly in quality.
After playing five games in four days against the Connecticut Tigers, including a 13-inning marathon in Troy, the ValleyCats’ pitching staff was tired entering the series. Murilo Gouvea, a member of last year’s championship team, was sent down from Class-A Lexington to make a spot start. Gouvea showed off his impressive curveball, but the Yankees jumped on his fastball, racking up five hits for three runs in the first inning.
The ‘Cats got eight hits for the game but converted them into only one run. Richard Martinez beat the ValleyCats for the second time in one week, throwing five strong innings in the 6-1 Yankees victory.
The game was followed by a fireworks show in front of the Upper Bay and the Manhattan skyline.
The ValleyCats returned to RCB Ballpark for the second game of the series, a 4 p.m. Sunday start.
Nick Tropeano got the start for the ValleyCats and had plenty of support in the first-base bleachers. The Long Island native and Stony Brook University student was able to pitch in front of friends and family, and he came through for them with his best start of the season.
Yankees starter Bryan Mitchell also pitched well, but he was outdueled by Tropeano in a 2-0 ValleyCats win.
Manager Stubby Clapp walks out to the third-base coaches’ box:
Justin Gominsky came home on a grounder by Matt Duffy in the first inning, which would prove to be all the scoring that the ‘Cats would need. John Hinson added in insurance run in the fifth, leading off with his first home run of the season, a fly ball that carried well over the right-field fence.
Brandon Meredith went 1-for-4, collecting one of 11 ValleyCats hits.
Meanwhile, Tropeano had it going on. He finished with a season-high nine strikeouts, consistently getting the Yankees to swing over the top of his changeup, and allowed only three baserunners in six innings.
Jacke Healey and John Hinson turned a 6-4-3 double play to get Mitch Lambson out of the eighth:
Lambson and Ryan Cole closed out the game with a combined three scoreless innings, giving Tropeano his first professional win.
The view across the water from behind the center-field fence:
And one more picture from the press box, taken during the national anthem before Monday’s early start:
The ‘Cats got six innings of one-run ball and eight strikeouts from Juri Perez and tied the game 1-1 on another Duffy grounder in the sixth inning. But Cito Culver’s infield single in the eighth inning gave the Yankees another lead, and despite Zach Johnson’s ninth-inning double, the hosts held on to win 2-1 and even the season series at three apiece.
The ValleyCats now stand at 15-22 on the season, 4.5 games behind division-leading Vermont. After a league-wide break today, they return to Joe Bruno Stadium for a six-game homestand against Pinckney Division foes State College and Auburn. The ‘Cats have played better at home this season (10-9 at “The Joe,” 5-13 away), and with 15 home games in the next 19 days, they could make a charge towards the top of the Stedler Division.
The ValleyCats made a special trip down to Cooperstown today, playing their annual meeting against the Tigers at Doubleday Field. The game coincides with the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend – Andre Dawson, Doug Harvey and Whitey Herzog will be officially inducted tomorrow afternoon – so the town is always full of excitement and energy. Combined with the historic nature of the field and area, it’s a great atmosphere for a ballgame.
Things are a little crazier this year, because the Tigers moved to Connecticut in the offseason. When they played in Oneonta, the Cooperstown game was a perfect fit, but this time around the ‘Cats have a very rough travel schedule: they finished a game at Aberdeen on Thursday night; drove nearly six hours up to Norwich, CT on Friday for a game that was postponed due to rain; spent four hours on the bus to get to Cooperstown for the 1:00 start today; and embarked on a 4.5-hour trip after the game to Vermont, where they will play at 1:05 tomorrow (Sunday).
But despite the crazy schedule, the players seemed pretty excited to play on Doubleday Field. They certainly got their money’s worth, playing a 13-inning marathon (longest of the season) that lasted three hours and 36 minutes and forced me to use a second scoresheet for the first time this season (mine go to 11). I was kind of wishing the game had taken place at home, just to see the kind of chaos that would have exploded on the whiteboard. 17 ValleyCats and 18 Tigers appeared in the game, including three pinch-runners, two pinch-hitters and eleven pitchers.
Each team had quite a few chances to put the game away – eleven different runners reached scoring position in the ninth and extras – so there were quite a few interesting tactical decisions made in the late innings. Here are some of the ones worth pointing out:
Look into the box score, and you’ll see an unusual move in the top of the ninth inning – the ValleyCats pinch-hit for their DH with their backup catcher. That doesn’t happen often. Now, nobody will argue it was the wrong decision – it regained the platoon advantage with lefty Logan Hoch on the mound, and Stanley isn’t exactly killing the ball regardless – and the results backed that up, as Afenir came through with the biggest hit of the day, a line-drive double to right-center that plated Dan Adamson.
On the very next batter, Connecticut made a decision that I think more teams in this league should copy. Jacke Healey pinch-ran for Afenir, and the ‘Cats were pretty clearly going to bunt – Wilton Infante, one of their best bunters, was batting, and the go-ahead run was on second. Connecticut aggressively blitzed Infante on the pitch, so that when Infante laid the bunt down, the first baseman was no more than 30 feet from the plate. It worked, as Infante bunted the ball right back to the pitcher, who had plenty of time to nail Healey at third. It was a poor bunt by Infante, but given how Connecticut played it, he would have needed to execute a very good bunt down the third-base line to successfully advance the runner. Most teams I’ve seen will play more conservatively in that situation, conceding the runner’s advancement while getting the batter out. I’m not a fan of playing exclusively for one run in that situation to begin with, but if teams are going to predictably bunt in those situations, it’s possible to exploit it and get the lead runner out more often.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, lefty Chao-Ting Tang came up with one on and one out against southpaw Travis Blankenship, and I thought for sure a pinch-hitter was coming, but Connecticut left him in. Tang hit a line drive, but it became a 6-3 double play when pinch-runner Matt Mansilla strayed too farr off first. (That was a perplexing play in its own right – Tang’s ball wasn’t hit all that hard, and it was obvious to everyone in the ballpark except Mansilla that it would be caught.) There are plenty of reasons to let Tang hit in that situation, so I didn’t think much of it until the 13th inning. Tang came up again in that frame with one on and one out against a lefty (Adam Champion)…but this time, the Tigers pinch-hit with righty Chris Sedon. That didn’t work out for them either, as Sedon struck out, setting the stage for Ryan Soares’s game-winning single. But I’m not sure what happened between the ninth and 13th innings to make pinch-hitting suddenly seem like a good idea (especially because, if I were to pick one to have a bigger expected platoon split, I’d definitely go with Blankenship over Champion as being relatively tougher on lefties).
‘Cats manager Jim Pankovits did a great job of managing his bullpen in extra innings. Blankenship was deep into his second inning of work when he got Josh Ashenbrenner to ground into a fielder’s choice for the second out. That put runners on first and third with righty Alex Nunez coming up – the Tigers’ cleanup hitter, who had two hits already in the game – and I thought for sure Blankenship would come out of the game for a righty. Blankenship has done well against right-handed hitters so far this year, but I’m not sure that’s sustainable – he comes from a low arm slot and throws a lot of breaking balls, two qualities that tend to make a pitcher vulnerable to opposite-handed batters. But Pankovits stuck with Blankenship, and it worked out in the end. He got Nunez down 1-2, then hit him with a breaking ball – which was better than leaving one out over the plate, given the situation. Then he induced an easy ground ball from the next batter, lefty Eric Roof, getting out of the jam.
Pankovits made another interesting decision in the 12th. With one out and PJ Polk on third, he had Brandt Walker intentionally walk Josh Ashenbrenner to pitch to Nunez. The reasoning for this wasn’t very obvious at the time – it seemed a sideways move at best, one that wasn’t necessarily detrimental but somewhat pointless. The ValleyCats weren’t setting up a double play – they kept the infield in after the walk – nor were they loading the bases to set up a force at home. I didn’t have stats with me at the time, but I checked and sure enough, the rationale became pretty obvious. With one out and a fast runner on third, Tri-City pretty much needed a strikeout to stay in the game (or an infield popup or a hard, at-’em grounder, but those are less common and less predictable). Ashenbrenner has only four strikeouts in 93 at-bats this year, while Nunez has fanned 34 times in 118. Sure enough, Walker sent Nunez down swinging, and got Roof to line out to escape a seemingly impossible bind.
The one decision that didn’t pan out came in the 13th, when Pankovits elected to bring in Jorge De Leon with two outs to face Soares, who drilled the first pitch for a game-winning single. But you certainly can’t second-guess Pankovits for this one – he got his closer into the game against a hot hitter in a critical situation. (If anything, I would have brought De Leon in to face Sedon once the pinch-hitter was announced, but Champion handled him just fine.) It didn’t work out this time, but the managing instinct was the right one – have your better relievers pitch in the most important situations. If Jerry Manuel does that today, the Mets might not lose again.*
*The Mets have played 52 games on the road this season, and have 12 walk-off defeats. That’s completely insane. Yet, Manuel was content to watch another celebration today without ever getting his best reliever in to the game.
Soares, of course, lined a single into center, and pinch-runner Les Smith scored from second to win the game. Adamson’s throw home was on target, but his arm isn’t the strongest, and it bounced home a step too late to catch Smith at the plate.
Tyler Burnett continues to absolutely rake – he went 3-for-5 with a walk and a 12th-inning double today. Burnett also scored a pair of runs; he is now tied for second in the league in doubles and tied for third in walks.
The ‘Cats as a team stroked five doubles today. Wilton Infante nearly had a sixth, but Polk made a fantastic leaping catch up against the wall in right-center-field. Nobody went yard, which came as a bit of a surprise given the friiendly confines (296 down the left-field line, 338 to the marking in left-center, 316 to right); besides Infante, Adam Bailey came closest to a homer, hitting a fly to the warning track to straightaway center, easily the deepest part of the park at 390 ft.
Mike Kvasnicka had another pretty good night with the bat, 2-for-6 with a double. After a rough first month of the season, his batting average is now up to .200, and I bet he’s at least a .270 hitter from this point forward, if not better.
Walker had two nice strikeouts in the eleventh inning as well, throwing a nice breaking ball to Julio Rodriguez for the first out and then getting Soares to chase a pitch in the dirt with the winning run on second.
Andrew Robinson pitched really well, but was bitten by some very rough luck. He gave up three hits in three innings, but they came back-to-back-to-back, leading to two runs. Even worse, none of the balls was hit well – a chopper that hung in the air too long, a high bloop down the right-field line and a soft grounder up the middle.
David Martinez, on the other hand, was a bit lucky to even get through the first three innings with only three runs allowed (six hits). He was putting pitches over the plate, and Connecticut was taking advantage – in the first two frames, Martinez faced 10 hitters and threw only 17 pitches. Martinez settled down, though, and retired the last eight batters he faced.
Ben Heath had been mired in a bit of a slump – 3 for his previous 23 entering today’s game – so it was nice to see him come up with a big hit in the third inning. His double brought home Kiké Hernandez and enabled the three-run outburst that tied the game.
Some pictures from today’s memorable game:
Pankovits hits some grounders during warm-ups:
Hitting coach Joel Chimelis talks to Kiké and Kvasnicka before the game:
Ben Orloff signs an autograph for a lucky fan:
Things got kind of cramped in the small dugouts:
Connecticut came up with an interesting solution: put players in the stands!
Kvasnicka at bat:
Buck Afenir is congratulated after his game-tying double:
The Tigers celebrate the walk-off victory:
At one point in yesterday’s game, I actually began to wonder if we might be able to finish the game in under two hours. It would have ben a stretch, but didn’t seem like a ridiculous proposition: the sixth inning was almost complete at 8:29, just an hour and 25 minutes after the game began. Carlos Quevedo was throwing great for Tri-City – 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 0 R on 65 pitches – and the Vermont pitchers also working quickly, allowing just one run and no walks. Neither side had needed more than 15 pitches to complete an inning, and with potentially only two and a half innings left to play, it seemed possible.
Then, the scoreboard went dark, the lights went off, and ominous black smoke started escaping from the roof of the generator building behind the left-center field fence. You probably know the story by now. The game was delayed for 61 minutes until all the lights finally came back on and play could resume. In the meantime, the ValleyCats gathered outside the third-base dugout, entertaining fans and themselves by throwing items into the stands. The postgame fireworks show was instead launched during the delay to keep the crowd engaged.
Eventually the game was resumed. Vermont decided that, even after the delay, it had not been at the ballpark long enough, and scored a run in the eighth to force extra innings. Each team had a runner in scoring position in the ninth and tenth, but neither could score. In the eleventh, Vermont finally broke through. Henry Jimenez – who had entered the game in the ninth as a pinch-runner for designated hitter David Freitas – led off the inning with a single through the right side, and came around to score on a two-out single by pinch-hitter Justin Miller. The ValleyCats couldn’t answer, and Vermont had a 2-1 victory.
The 61-minute delay provided some of the wildest scenes of the season.
Infielder Enrique Hernandez became an honorary member of VCN, taping Elliot’s camera to the top of his head:
Hernandez wanted to bring the camera out with him to coach first base, but the rest of us thought that was a bad idea.
The players throw giveaway items into the stands:
Fun Facts: As long as Wednesday might have been for the ValleyCats, it was even longer for John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon. Isner and Mahut began their match on Wednesday…and didn’t finish until Thursday, as Isner took the final set 70-68. Tri-City and Vermont could have almost played their game twice, complete with power delays, in the time it took the tennis pros to complete their fifth set alone (8 hours, 11 minutes).
In fact, in the 11 hours and 5 minutes it took Isner and Mahut to play their match, the ValleyCats could have…
…put on 44 consecutive firework displays
…waited through 11 power outage delays
…in which they could have thrown an estimated 22,000 items into the stands
…including 11 cardboard boxes, signed by a dozen ValleyCats.
I think we’re all glad it didn’t come to that.
Some notes from the game:
The ValleyCats’ pitching staff is due for regression at some point – that 1.73 ERA is simply not sustainable for any team. But I am confident that Carlos Quevedo will continue to have a lot of success at this level. You can’t help but appreciate the righty’s pitching style. How’s this for going after hitters: In his first start, Quevedo threw first-pitch strikes to the first 12 batters he faced. Last night? 14 of the first 15. His fastball only sits around 89-91, but it gets on hitters really quickly, enabling him to challenge batters up in the zone and succeed. The stadium shadows last night helped a bit with that deception, but it was still impressive. Quevedo’s second pitch is a slow curve, which seemed to come in around 74-76 mph (though I trust the stadium gun a little less in this range, as it was showing a few curves at 61); it was very useful for him last night, although he did get some help from the umpire on a couple hooks.
Quevedo was the player affected most by the power outage: he was only at 65 pitches at the time of the delay, and would have pitched the seventh inning (although likely no more). He only allowed three hits – all singles – and now has not given up a walk in 10.1 innings this seasion. He currently ranks second in the NYPL with 10 strikeouts.
The bullpen was not as lights-out last night as it had been. The overall line is good – five innings, one earned run – but that overstates its effectiveness. The first run counted as unearned, but Tri-City pitchers were hardly blameless – Joan Belliard hit Ronnie LaBrie with one out, Travis Blankenship walked LaBrie over to third with two, and then Andrew Robinson walked the next batter to bring in the run. That was uncharacteristic of a team that has had remarkable control this season. The ‘pen held Vermont scoreless in the ninth and tenth, but didn’t make it easy, stranding a runner on second in the ninth and leaving the bases loaded in the tenth with the help of a baserunning out.
I was very impressed with the ValleyCats’ fielding. The outfielders threw out three runners on the basepaths. In the first inning, Chad Mozingo tried to stretch his leadoff single into a double, but hesitated a bit coming around first, allowing a strong throw by Renzo Tello to beat him to second base. In the tenth inning, Rick Hughes tried to score the go-ahead run on a soft single to right, but Michael Kvasnicka’s throw arrived well before Hughes and catcher Buck Afenir held onto the ball in the collision. In the eleventh, Cole Leonida tried to score an insurance run from second with two outs, but Tello again delivered a good throw to end the inning. Ben Orloff added a terrific sliding catch deep in foul territory in the fifth inning, while Oscar Figueroa, starting at third for the first time, made a nice play on a grounder in the second.
But the story, as always, is that the ‘Cats can’t hit. I already covered that theme this week, and one more game doesn’t change my opinion much. Still, Tri-City is batting just .197 on the season, which is not good.
Kvasnicka continued his hitless streak, going 0-for-1 in two plate appearances. The rookie did not start, but pinch-hit for Adam Bailey in the ninth with Burnett on first and one out. From the right side, he took a big swing through the first pitch, but eventually worked a walk. He got up again in the eleventh, this time from the left side and again with Burnett on first. The ‘Cats called a hit-and-run but got a bad pitch as Kvasnicka swung and missed at a fastball up and out of the zone, hanging Burnett out to dry between first and second and effectively ending the ‘Cats’ rally. Kvasnicka went down swinging on a ball in the dirt two pitches later.
He’s back in the lineup tonight, in the three-hole and starting at third. Let’s hope he breaks out of the slump.
Here’s the media board from today’s wild 11-inning thriller, which featured three pinch-hitters, a pinch-runner and nine pitching changes:
More to come tomorrow.