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'Cats outlast rain delay, homer four times in 8-1 win07/29/2011 10:34 PM ET
By Kevin Whitaker
The storm slowly crept in as Friday's game against the State College Spikes began. Making its way from beyond the left-field foul pole all the way across the outfield, the darkness settled in. Though the game started in dry conditions, the rain soon came, forcing an hour-long delay while the 'Cats sat on a small lead. But the hosts were unfazed by the weather, smacking a season-high four homers in an 8-1 victory.
"That was fun to see," manager Stubby Clapp said. "It comes back to the guys doing the work, and hopefully they're starting to apply the stuff they've been working on with Beetle [hitting coach Mark Bailey]. You see something like that, and you wish it could last all year."
The 'Cats picked up a game on each of their Stedler Division opponents and now sit only 3.5 games out of first place.
Despite a rocky forecast and a light pre-game shower, the game started in a dry stadium. Kyle Hallock retired the first three batters in order, and John Hinson led off the ValleyCats' half of the first with a single as dark clouds drew nearer. But Hinson was thrown out at second on a strikeout-caught stealing double play, and State College pitched its own quick inning among the elements.
Darkness enveloped the stadium in the top half of the second inning, as the threatening clouds originated beyond the left-field foul line and quickly covered the outfield. The Spikes tagged Hallock for three hits as steady rain began to fall, but the 'Cats did not allow a run, thanks to a 5-4-3 double play.
With Zach Johnson batting to lead off the bottom of the second inning, the storm picked up even more. Johnson grounded out, but Matt Duffy followed with a no-doubt homer onto the left-field berm, his first professional dinger - though this was not certain until the game became official a couple hours later.
"I thought by now I would have hit a home run ... no telling why I haven't had one yet, but I just got the monkey off my back, I guess," Duffy said. "When I hit it, I knew I got it well."
The skies lightened as the teams changed sides again, but the rain did not. Hallock got one out but surrendered a pair of singles, putting runners on the corners. With a 1-0 count on Alex Dickerson and the storm hitting its peak, plate umpire Brian Rilley suspended the game a half-hour after it had started.
Hallock did not return to the mound after the 55-minute delay, relieved by fellow southpaw Adam Champion. Champion helped defuse the rally without even throwing a pitch, picking off Walker Gourley from first on his first movement. Gourley broke for second and was caught in a rundown; Alex Fuselier tried to take home, but Neiko Johnson threw him out at the plate.
Freeman flew out to left field, ending a long and eventful at-bat.
With two out in the third inning, John Hinson took a 2-0 fastball well beyond the right-field wall, landing it at the base of the park boundary fence nearly 450 feet away. The blast was Hinson's second of the season, both coming in the past week.
"I can run into them sometimes," quipped Hinson, who reached safely all four times from the leadoff spot. "It felt good. It felt like a home run. It was a 2-0 count, I was pretty sure a fastball was coming ... luckily I was on time, and I put a pretty good swing on it."
Wes Freeman led off the next inning with a homer of his own, a towering fly that sailed just beyond the left-field wall.
With the bases empty in the bottom half, Zach Johnson ripped a double to right field, a fly that hung in the thick air but fell inches beyond the glove of a diving Fuselier. Duffy followed with a routine grounder to third base, but Ponce's throw, perhaps affected by a slippery ball, sailed well over the first baseman's head. Johnson advanced to third base and was waved home by an aggressive Stubby Clapp; the throw came in low and Johnson slid in with the run.
Muren cleaned up from there, delivering a low line drive that just eclipsed the fence in right-center, near the deepest part of the park. The two-run shot, his second of the year, put the hosts ahead 5-1.
"It was a great night," he said. "We're starting to take a little better BP ... I think guys are starting to get really used to the wood bats."
Muren added another big hit in the sixth inning, floating an opposite-field double that landed just on the fair side of the left-field line. Miles Hamblin scored on the play, an insurance run for the hosts.
Hamblin capped the Tri-City scoring two innings later with the team's fourth homer, pulling a two-run blast well over the second fence down the right field line. The four dingers doubled the ValleyCats' season high, and were the most the team has hit in a game since August 10, 2010.
"We were aggressive," Hamblin said. "That's all it was ... when you're aggressive, sometimes it shows and sometimes it doesn't. Tonight, I guess it did."
Meanwhile, Champion enjoyed what was easily the longest outing of his career. The southpaw threw 68 pitches and recorded 14 outs, allowing no hits aside from Freeman's homer. Four Tri-City pitchers - all lefties - combined for nine innings of one-run ball and did not allow a hit in the final five innings.
"That was huge for Champ to pick us up right there," Clapp said. "The thought of sticking Kyle out there after that long delay didn't even cross our mind, so we needed Champ to step up, and he did."
The rain mostly subsided after the game restarted; a sprinkle fell during the bottom of the sixth inning but quickly passed. The 'Cats stay at "The Joe" for a three-game series against the Auburn Doubledays, which begins with "Hall of Fame Night" on Saturday at 7 p.m.
To show our appreciation despite tonight's delay, if fans bring their tickets from tonight's game to the box office at Joe Bruno Stadium, the ValleyCats will exchange it for a ticket of equal seating for tomorrow night's game, pending availability. We thank our fans for your continued support and hope you make it tomorrow night!