And boy did they rebound. Four 'Cats scattered nine hits to blank Lowell (3-6), the second Tri-City shutout in three games against the Spinners. Meanwhile, the Tri-City (4-5) hitters took advantage of several free passes to cruise to an 8-0 victory.
"Our first-pitch strikes are up and our three-ball counts are down. We're throwing the ball over the plate," pitching coach Gary Ruby said. "[Our pitchers] have some savvy and some good arms, and they have a chance to be pretty good."
4,417 fans showed up despite iffy weather, and they were treated to a wild show early on. In the bottom of the first inning, Lowell starter Randy Consuegra threw four pitches that nearly hit Wilton Infante in the head, putting a runner on first. Ben Orloff then grounded out to second base.
That was the last out Consuegra would record.
The righty walked the next four Tri-City batters, hit catcher Buck Afenir in the helmet, and then walked designated hitter Frank Almonte before being mercifully removed from the game. All seven runners would come around to score.
Consuegra had extreme control issues earlier this week against the ValleyCats. At Lowell on Monday, the 21-year-old pitcher walked four batters and hit the fifth, leaving the game without recording an out.
By retiring Orloff today, Consuegra remarkably lowered his ERA to 270.00.
Reliever Keith Couch did Consuegra no favors, allowing all three inherited runners to score. Middle infielders Jacke Healey and Ben Orloff each hit first-inning RBI singles off Couch. But the righty settled down after that, getting through the next three innings unscathed with only 27 pitchess.
Meanwhile, Tri-City starter Tom Shirley threw almost as well. A ninth-round draft pick this summer, Shirley stands 6'5" and was consistently hitting 90 mph on the radar gun. The lefty got into some trouble, putting two on in the second and loading the bases in the third, but struck out the side both times to get out of the jam. He was removed after that inning due to his pitch count.
"Shirley has deceptive stuff," Ruby said. "He was basically a one-pitch pitcher today - his curveball and changeup were ineffective, so he was mostly fastball - but he's got a funky delivery that's hard to pick up."
Neither offense had much success against the opposing bullpen. The ValleyCats finally broke through in the sixth inning with the aid of a Lowell fielding miscue. Orloff reached on a single up the middle, but would have been forced out at second moments later had the ball not popped out of second baseman Drew Dominguez's glove. Third baseman Tyler Burnett followed with a double to deep center field, easily bringing home the veteran infielder.
Winning pitcher Alex Sogard, Michael Ness and Travis Blankenship each threw two scoreless innings in relief. Sogard worked into a jam in the fifth inning, allowing a double to speedy outfielder Felix Sanchez and a bloop single to shortstop Jose Garcia. But Sogard got Kolbrin Vitek to ground into a 5-4-3 double play and end the inning.
Lowell would not have a runner in scoring position the rest of the way.
The game would have certainly had a different tone were it not for the fateful first frame. Tri-City was actually outhit by the Spinners, notching eight hits to the visitors' nine. The home team loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, but Chez Angeloni sent Orloff and Mike Kvasnicka down swinging.
Lowell returns to Joe Bruno Stadium for the finale of the two-game series tomorrow, with an early 5 pm start. ValleyCat starter Jake Buchanan takes on Hunter Cervenka, a pitching rematch from Tuesday, when the Spinners won 3-2 on a walk-off single.