Rancho Cucamonga, CA - After a one year playoff hiatus, the Inland Empire 66ers came out firing in their first game of postseason play since 2011, registering a 6-3 victory Tuesday over the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. With a one game lead in hand, the 66ers can secure a series sweep with a win Thursday at San Manuel Stadium.
The 66ers offense which struggled through August, sparked early in the playoff opener. With two outs in the 1st Alex Yarbrough delivered a double and would come in to score on a Zach Borenstein single. Brian Hernandez extended the two out rally with an RBI double of his own and the 66ers were up 2-0.
The Quakes battled back to tie in their half of the 1st inning, and would take the lead on a Scott Schebler RBI single in the second. But after three runs on six hits in two innings, the Schebler single would be the Quakes last against 66ers starter Drew Rucinski. Rucinski, who as little as six weeks ago was pitching in independent ball, would go seven innings Tuesday for his fifth quality start in six outings since signing with the Angels.
Inland Empire took the lead back in the top of the 3rd which started with five consecutive 66ers reaching base safely. Yarbrough singled and advanced to third on a Borenstein double setting the table for Brian Hernandez. Inland Empire's ironman (Hernandez played in all 140 games during the regular season) hit a routine grounder to shortstop which would have scored Yarbrough anyways, but the ball was bobbled and Hernandez reached as well. Abel Baker came up and cleared the bases with a two run double to make it 5-3 Inland Empire, and Baker came home on an RBI fielder choice hit into by 66ers newcomer Angel Rosa making it 6-3 66ers.
From that point on both pitching staffs settled in and clamped down on the outpouring of offense. Quakes pitchers retired the last 18 batters of the game in order, and between Rucinski and relievers Eduard Santos and Carmine Giardina, the Quakes got one batter into scoring position from the 4th through the 8th. But the Quakes were able to get the winning run to the plate in the 9th inning off of Inland Empire closer R.J. Alvarez. With one out the Quakes secured a double, a walk and a single to load the bases down 6-3. Quakes home run leader Scott Schebler stepped up to the plate, and that's when R.J. Alvarez stepped up his game. He struck out Schebler with a slider, and ended the game with a strikeout of Darnell Sweeney to preserve the 6-3 victory.
Inland Empire can sweep the Quakes with a win on Thursday at San Manuel Stadium. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 and the game can be heard on the 66ers flagship radio station, AM 1050 KCAA. Alex Keudell is scheduled to start for the 66ers in the team's first home playoff game since 2011. For information on tickets to the 66ers playoff game at San Manuel Stadium on Thursday, September 5th, contact the 66ers front office at (909)888-9922.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.