Such a result seemed unlikely at the end of June, when the Lake Monsters (25-19) took three from Tri-City (20-24) without allowing a single run. But the ValleyCats have turned it on lately and now stand only five games behind division-leading Vermont, the closest the gap has been since June 29.
"It's how you finish, not how you start," manager Jim Pankovits said. "We're playing really well right now, and hopefully we can continue that."
The Lake Monsters manufactured a run in the fifth inning off reliever Murillo Gouvea. Chad Mozingo led off with a single and went station-to-station, scoring on a grounder by catcher David Freitas. But that was the last run the visitors would get. Gouvea, Travis Blankenship and flamethrowers Brandt Walker and Jorge De Leon combined for four scoreless frames to preserve the victory.
"It's nice to have some options," Pankovits said. "All of [the relievers] have done a great job, and they've all pitched in really tight situations - they're battle-tested."
Gouvea threw 2.2 innings and allowed just the one run, earning his first win of the season. Walker entered in the seventh to retire the potent Freitas with two outs and a man on in the seventh, staying in the game to fan two batters in the eighth. De Leon closed the game out, earning his fourth save.
First baseman Tyler Burnett added an insurance run in the seventh inning, blasting a two-out solo shot well over the right-field fence. Burnett, who singled earlier in the contest, has reached base safely in each of his last 29 games.
The 'Cats took the lead for good in their half of the fourth. With the game tied 2-2, Adam Bailey hit a leadoff double, bringing up shortstop Jacke Healey. Healey laid down a sacrifice bunt, but pitcher Chris McKenzie threw the ball well wide into left field. Bailey jogged home easily and Healey ended up on second base.
Ben Orloff followed with his second of three hits, bringing Healey home with the fourth Tri-City run. Orloff led off the first inning with a double and scored in the inning.
"We've been playing well the last couple weeks," Orloff said. "We're getting good pitching, coming around with the bats and playing a lot of good games. We're just trying to get better every day."
Kiké Hernandez plated Orloff in the first and was in the middle of things again in the third inning. The second baseman fouled off three pitches and singled through the hole, advancing to third on a Burnett base hit. Catcher Ben Heath took care of business, driving Hernandez home with a sacrifice fly.
A couple deep shots off Alex Sogard kept Vermont in the game with a pair of early runs. Designated hitter Justin Miller hit what appeared to be a lazy fly ball, but it caught the wind blowing out hard to left field. Wilton Infante leaped at the wall, but the ball dropped just inches over his glove for a home run.
Freitas drove a double to the center-field wall to lead off the fourth inning. He scored moments later on a Ronnie LaBrie single.
Aside from the two deep hits, Sogard pitched relatively well. The lefty threw his curveball often, even to opposite-handed hitters, fanning Blake Kelso twice with hooks inside. Sogard also commanded his fastball well and did not walk a single batter.
The ValleyCats embark on a six-game road trip at Mahoning Valley and State College. They take on the Scrappers (16-29) tomorrow at 7:05 pm.