For seven innings Friday night, it looked like the Grizzlies had forgotten to show up to their own homecoming party. But a little bit of luck and some serious clutch hitting sent the packed house at Chukchansi Park into a frenzy, as Fresno scored once in the eighth to tie the game and again in the ninth to walk off with a 2-1 win in their home opener in front of 13,852 fans.
After the Grizzlies (4-5) had pushed across the tying run in the eighth, Matt Downs led off the ninth with a shot into the left-field corner, but the ball was cut off quickly by Aaron Cunningham. With Downs digging hard for second, Cunningham's throw came in off-line and the Grizzlies' third baseman dove in around the tag of Sean Kazmar for his second straight two-base hit. Mike McBryde struck out trying to sacrifice with two strikes, and Ben Copeland was intentionally walked, bringing up pinch-hitter Steve Holm. The catcher worked the count to 2-2 before ripping a hanging slider from Portland reliever Luis Perdomo (0-1) for a double over the head of Cunningham to plate Downs with the game-winning run.
"It's great to get a good win at home, especially in front of all these people," said Grizzlies skipper Steve Decker.
The crowd was the second-largest ever to witness a regular season game in Grizzlies history, falling just shy of the 13,970 mark set on the final home date of the season in 2006.
The Grizzlies could not muster anything offensively until the eighth, entering the frame trailing 1-0. Brock Bond led off the bottom of the inning with an opposite-field double inside third base, extending his hit streak to seven games and his on-base streak to nine. Ryan Rohlinger laid down a successful sacrifice to move Bond over to third with one out. Against a drawn-in infield, Posey grounded right to third baseman Eric Munson, but Munson's throw to first sailed high over Craig Cooper's head popping out of his mitt and rolling into foul territory. An alert Bond took off and scored, tying the game at 1-1.
The late heroics overshadowed great pitching performances from both sides, as the teams combined to strand 28 runners on the night (Portland 13, Fresno 15).
Joe Martinez turned in another solid outing, yielding a single run over 5.0 innings of four-hit ball, walking two and fanning four. He was backed up by four innings of hitless relief from Steve Edlefsen, Geno Espineli and Denny Bautista (1-0), who picked up the victory. Bautista punched out two in a 1-2-3 ninth, and now has six strikeouts in four scoreless innings to start the season.
"I thought we pitched very well," said Decker of his staff's performance. "The relief pitching was outstanding."
Portland (4-5) starter Will Inman walked three but held the Grizzlies to a single hit through 5.0 scoreless innings, striking out six. Coming off of a 2-1, 10-inning victory at home over Colorado Springs on Thursday in which they gave up just four hits, the Beavers' pitching staff again quieted their opponents' bats for much of the game, but the defensive miscue and the three late doubles would be their undoing.
"That big error really killed them," admitted Decker. "When you win like this it makes the food taste better after the game, but we've got to execute better in the future."
Game two of the series will start at 1:05pm on Saturday, with Portland righty Radhames Liz (1-0, 0.00) taking on Grizzlies righty Matt Kinney (0-1, 14.73).
WP: Bautista (1-0); LP: Perdomo (0-1); HR: None