VANCOUVER, B.C. - The Hillsboro Hops went into their first game of the year at Vancouver with the top three bats in their order missing and just two healthy outfielders. Not exactly a recipe for turning around a three-game losing streak.
But, with a number of players batting or playing out of position, the Hops snapped out of a recent hitting funk and got a strong start from Aaron Blair (1-0) to defeat the Canadians 7-1 in the first of their five-game series at Nat Bailey Stadium.
Blair surrendered a run on two hits in the first inning, but got out of a bases-loaded jam and kept the C's in check for the remainder of his five innings on the mound to record his first professional victory. Blair allowed three hits with two walks and three strikeouts, matching his longest outing of the year, a five-inning stint on Friday in an extra-inning win over Everett. The Hops (5-4 2nd half, 16-31 overall) are now 5-1 in Blair's six starts, the best record for any starting pitcher on the team.
The Hops ended a 30-inning scoreless streak with a run in the third inning, then scored two more in the fourth to take the lead and three in the fifth to pull away.
With four outfielders out of the lineup for various reasons and reinforcements at least a day away from joining the team, the Hops were forced to get creative defensively. Jordan Parr made his first start in center field and Randy McCurry solidified his role as Hillsboro's most versatile player by starting in right field for the first time one night after getting his first start at second base. The Hops played a near- flawless defensive game, while their dormant bats came alive in the middle innings.
Vancouver starting pitcher Alonzo Gonzalez walked the bases loaded in the third before surrendering a game-tying sacrifice fly to right field by Yosbel Gutierrez. In the fourth inning, Hillsboro strung together four consecutive hits off reliever Justin James (1-3) to take the lead for good. After a one-out double by Elvin Soto and a bunt base hit from Jordan Parr, Ty Linton and McCurry delivered back-to-back RBI singles to put the Hops in front 3-1.
Meanwhile, Blair kept the usually raucous Canadian crowd relatively silent as the C's failed to get a runner past first base off the hard-throwing righty after the first inning. The crowd even turned a bit on the home team, after defensive breakdowns led to three errors and three hops runs in the fifth. Ryan Gebhardt and Gutierrez led off the inning with back-to-back base hits and both scored when James fielded George Roberts' sacrifice bunt and threw the ball wildly to third. Roberts would later score when the C's infield committed two errors on the same play, eliciting a chorus of boos from the home faithful.
The Hops bullpen made things interesting, but Patrick Smith pitched two scoreless innings, stranding five baserunners and Will Locante pitched around a couple of walks in the eighth. Jimmie Sherfy tossed his fifth consecutive scoreless inning as a Hop and ran his strikeout total to ten with a pair of punch outs to end the game.
The Hops outhit the Canadians 8-5 and every Hops batter reached base or scored a run. Linton had two hits in his second game back with Hillsboro after a short stint at Missoula. Dickie Thon, Jr. went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and a run scored for Vancouver (4-5, 26-21). The Canadians' only run scored on an Andy Fermin RBI triple in the first inning.
The Hops and Canadians square off for game two at the Nat tonight at 7:05. Hear all the live action on Fox Sports Radio 620 AM and foxsportsradio620.com with pregame coverage beginning at 6:05. Friday's broadcast, a "Nooner At The Nat", begins at 12:35 p.m. with first pitch at 1:05.