The ValleyCats seemed to be on cruise control on Saturday night from the very beginning. Andrew Thurman didn't allow a base runner until the 4th inning, Michael Feliz retired ten hitters in a row at one point, and going into the top of the 9th, the 'Cats had more runs, three, than the Spinners had hits, two.
And that's when it all fell apart.
With the bases loaded and one out the in ninth, Spinners second baseman Cleluis Rondon took a 1-0 pitch from Tri-City reliever Pat Christensen (1-1) and launched it over the right field fence for a grand slam, the first home run of the year for Rondon. As the four Spinners rounded the bases, a loud hush fell over the 3, 391 fans in attendance, as what once appeared to be a sure victory became a stunning defeat. In the bottom of the ninth, the ValleyCats put on two runners with just one out, but neither Michael Martinez nor Ronnie Mitchell could deliver, as both struck out against Lowell closer Greg Larson.
The loss marks the first game the 'Cats have lost leading after eight innings. It is their second 9th inning defeat this week, as they lost on a walk-off hit in Vermont on Wednesday. The final score obscures a very strong outing from the duo of Thurman and Michael Feliz. Thurman allowed just one hit in his four innings in the start, and gave way to Feliz, who continued to dazzle on the mound. Retiring 10 straight Spinners at one point, the 19 year-old righty struck out six batters in his 4.1 IP. Feliz is now tied for the most strikeouts in the league with 25.
However, while Feliz was in the game, the ValleyCats had the chance to extend their 3-0 lead, but went just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position Saturday night, as they left 11 runners on base. The 'Cats stole five bases, bringing their total to nine in the last two nights, but none after fourth. Tony Kemp had two to go along with three hits, and Jon Kemmer had two thefts in a row in the fourth. Michael Martinez hit his second home run of the season in the 5th, which proved to be the last time Tri-City would score in the game. Manager Ed Romero said that the 'Cats let one slip away in a game they mostly dominated.
"We had them on the ropes the entire game, and basically just slipped in the ninth inning," said Romero. "Christensen made the pitch, and the guy hit the ball out…it's a tough loss, definitely."
Lowell's victory in dramatic fashion handed them the series victory after the teams split the first two games Thursday and Friday. It is the second straight series loss for Tri-City, which has now lost five of nine games. For just the second time all season, the 'Cats lost a game in which they hit at least one home run in.
The ValleyCats will begin a new series against the Aberdeen Ironbirds starting Sunday night. This marks the first time in 2013 that the 'Cats will play a team outside of the Stedler Division, a division they still currently lead with a record of 13-7. Lowell's victory improves them to 11-7. The Tri-City starter on Sunday will be RHP Kyle Westwood (1-1, 0.68) and Sebastian Vader (2-1, 1.96) will pitch for Aberdeen. The 'Cats will be wearing purple and white uniforms as part of "Relay for Life Night", as the game-worn uniforms will be auctioned off after the game, with the proceeds going to the Relay for Life. Tickets are still available by calling 518-629-2287 or by coming to the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium box office.