After three merry-go-round games in which 11 relief pitchers and two position players were forced to work 11 1/3 innings, the Aviators needed one thing from starter Tyler Alexander in Friday's series opener against the San Antonio Missions: innings. The southpaw delivered, and in a big way.
With the bullpen behind him running on fumes, Alexander took the ball and matched a season high with six outstanding innings, allowing just one run on two hits while establishing season highs for pitches (96) and strikeouts (nine). Unfortunately, after throwing his final pitch in the sixth, Alexander strolled to the dugout trailing 1-0 and staring at possible loss. But his teammates quickly took him off the hook in the bottom of the sixth when they sent 10 men to the plate, hit three home runs and scored six times en route to an 8-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 10,430 at Las Vegas Ballpark.
One night after the Aviators (33-28) surrendered a franchise-record 26 runs in a 26-11 loss to the Round Rock Express, Alexander completely stifled the Missions (38-24) over the first five innings, allowing just a fourth-inning single while scattering three walks. He issued a fourth walk to Mauricio Dubon to lead off the sixth inning, and one out later Dubon raced around the bases with the game's first run when Keston Hiura ripped a double to the left-center field wall.
After inducing a pop out and yielding another walk, Alexander - who posted a 7.31 ERA over his previous four starts - finished his night's work with his ninth strikeout. But as good as Alexander (2-3) was, San Antonio starter Burch Smith was even stingier, holding the Aviators scoreless while scattering four hits and a walk over five innings.
Then came the bottom of the sixth and the end of Smith's good fortune.
After center fielder Dustin Fowler led off the inning with a double - his third hit in as man at-bats - red-hot second baseman Franklin Barreto crushed Smith's 1-1 pitch onto the pool deck in center field to give Las Vegas a 2-1 lead. The two-run blast was Barreto's third homer in two nights and his fifth in the last five games. It also launched a mini game of home run derby.
After a groundout and two walks, catcher Beau Taylor hammered a three-run homer that also landed on the pool deck and chased Smith (3-3) from the game. Missions reliever Alex Wilson took over and promptly saw his first pitch to Aviators third baseman Eric Campbell fly over the left-field wall to give Las Vegas a 6-1 lead.
Seth Brown added some insurance in the eighth with his team-leading 15th homer, a booming two-run shot to right field that cleared the ballpark and scored Barreto, who started the inning with a walk. From there, it was up to closer Brian Schlitter to finish the job, and the right-hander did just that, allowing just one run - Nate Orf's eighth-inning solo homer - on two hits over three innings for his 10th save.
As big as the late-inning offensive fireworks were for Las Vegas, the fact Alexander and Schlitter allowed just two runs and covered all nine innings after Aviators pitchers gave up 46 runs in the previous three games was by far the most impressive - and important - feat of the night.
GAME NOTES: Aviators shortstop Jorge Mateo (1-for-5) extended his hitting streak to 14 games when he legged out his Pacific Coast League-leading 11th triple of the season in the sixth-run sixth inning. … Taylor's three-run homer extended his hitting streak to seven games. … Campbell (2-for-4) added a second-inning single to his solo homer. The single was his 1,000th career hit in professional baseball. … Barreto is now 24-for-40 (.600) since May 25 with six home runs, 16 runs and 20 RBI. … Friday's sellout was the 24th of the season at Las Vegas Ballpark and pushed the season attendance over the 300,000 mark. … The Aviators bolstered their bullpen Friday with the addition of right-hander Kyle Finnegan, who was promoted from Double-A Midland (Texas). Finnegan appeared in 18 games with Midland, going 0-1 with a 1.86 ERA and eight saves. … The four-game series with the Missions continues at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. Aviators left-handed reliever Kyle Lobstein (1-2, 6.89 ERA) will make his first start of the season and oppose San Antonio right-hander Thomas Jenkins (4-2, 3.98 ERA). The first 2,500 children through the gates will receive a kids-size glove.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.