"It's nice to see some smiling faces in the clubhouse for a change," manager Jim Pankovits said. We talked before the game about being more aggressive early in the count, and some guys will sleep better tonight."
Tri-City stranded 11 runners on base, but was more than happy enough just to have that many opportunities. The hosts drew six walks and pounded nine hits en route to snapping a four-game losing streak.
None was bigger than Ben Heath's fifth-inning blast over the left-field bullpen and onto the Top of the Hill Bar & Grill, some 430-plus feet from home plate. The solo shot gave the ValleyCats their third and ultimately decisive run.
"It definitely felt good off the bat," Heath said. "I'd seen [pitcher Josue Carreno] a couple times, and he came right at me. When you get a fastball in, you don't usually let it go by."
Second baseman Enrique Hernandez provided the big blow in the first inning, lining a double down the right-field line that moved leadoff hitter Wilton Infante over to third. Infante hesitated on a grounder by Mike Kvasnicka, but was able to score anyways on the softly-hit ball.
Hernandez went 3-for-5 and was again the catalyst for the ValleyCats' second run. He and Kvasnicka drilled back-to-back singles, moving up a base on Tyler Burnett's walk. With two outs, Carreno threw a wild pitch that barely rolled out of the home plate circle, but Hernandez dashed for home anyway. His hand reached the plate a split-second before Carreno's tag, putting the home team up 2-0.
Tri-City had opportunities to blow the game open even further, but could not convert. Eight runners were stranded in scoring position, and another two were erased on pickoffs.
The 'Cats finally broke through again in the eighth, giving the bullpen some breathing room. Leading off the inning, Adam Bailey hit a ball that looked like a sure double down the right-field line, but fell foul by an inch or two. Undeterred, the left fielder worked a full count and drilled a ground ball to the same place but fair, trotting to second base with his second hit of the game. He would later score on a sacrifice fly by center fielder Wilton Infante.
Tom Shirley led another magnificent pitching performance, throwing four innings of shutout ball as the hosts did not allow an earned run. Tri-City came into the game third in the league in strikeouts and moved further up the rankings today, fanning 13 Tigers.
Shirley, pitching predominantly with his fastball, worked in and out of jams for the second consecutive outing but again suffered no damage. He struck out five batters in the first two innings, getting some help when Ben Heath caught Alex Nunez attempting to steal second. The southpaw walked a pair of batters in the fourth, but fanned Ryan Enos to end the threat. Shirley has pitched 10 scoreless innings this season, with a remarkable 18 strikeouts.
"[Shirley] has a good low fastball, and hitters don't pick it up very well," pitching coach Gary Ruby said. "He's very sharp and goes right after people. [Today] he was a little more erratic around the zone than usual, and the walks probably cost him the win."
He was pulled after four innings due to a pitch count, but the bullpen was just as effective. Winning pitcher David Martinez allowed just one hit while retiring four batters, and lefty Travis Blankenship got out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth.
The ValleyCats ran into some trouble in the seventh, as a throwing error by third baseman Tyler Burnett put runners on second and third with one out. Nunez brought home the first run with a groundout, and Josh Ashenbrenner followed with a bloop single to center, scoring PJ Polk.
But relievers Joan Belliard and Jorge De Leon would not allow a hit from that point forward. Hernandez committed a throwing error in the next frame, but redeemed himself two batters later to get out of the inning unscathed. De Leon pitched a perfect ninth, inducing two weak groundballs and fanning Nunez to seal the victory.
The 'Cats will try to build on their momentum tomorrow night when they take on the Tigers again. The game starts at 7:00, and features righty Jake Buchanan (0-0, 5.06 ERA) against Connecticut starter Brennan Smith (0-0, 0.00).