Perhaps it was the Cinco de Mayo transformation into their alter ego, the Las Vegas Reyes de Plata. Perhaps it was getting to face a starting pitcher making his Triple-A debut. Or maybe it simply came down to collectively adopting an "enough is enough" mentality.
Whatever the explanation, the Aviators (18-13) put an emphatic end to their seven-game home losing streak Sunday, scoring in each of the first five innings - including six runs in the first - on their way to an 11-2 victory over the Fresno Grizzlies at Las Vegas Ballpark.
Before a sellout crowd of 9,286 - the 15th consecutive full house in as many games at Las Vegas Ballpark - the Aviators put together their most complete performance in weeks, and they did it as the Reyes de Plata in the first Copa de la Diversión ("Fun Cup") game of the season. In addition to getting contributions up and down the lineup (including several clutch two-out hits), the Reyes de Plata got outstanding pitching from starter Paul Blackburn and reliever Norge Ruiz, and made several sparkling defensive plays both in the infield and outfield.
It all added up to the team's first home win since April 15 (also against Fresno), first win in a day game this season and first win on a Sunday.
"That was much-needed right there," said Reyes de Plata manager Fran Riordan. "It was good because it's our first win during the day, and we haven't won in a while at home, so it was good to win in front of our fans again.
"We needed a really complete game on both sides of the ball, and we got that. We banged the ball around, played good defense and obviously got great pitching."
The Reyes de Plata wasted no time jumping on Fresno starter Mario Sanchez (0-1), not only sending nine men to the plate during their six-run first inning, but hitting for the cycle in the process.
Jorge Mateo got things started with a leadoff triple, and Matt Olson followed with an RBI single to right. After a walk to Corban Joseph and a pop out, Dustin Fowler ripped a two-run double to the wall in right-center field. One out later, Fowler came home on Franklin Barreto's single to left, then Mark Payton capped the first-inning onslaught (and the cycle) with a two-run home run to right.
Las Vegas scored twice more in the second on Fowler's two-run single before plating single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings en route to building an 11-1 lead. The run in the fourth was historic: Eric Campbell hit a sinking line drive to right field that Fresno's Alec Keller dove for and missed, and as the ball rolled all the way to the wall, Campbell raced around the bases for the first inside-the-park home run at Las Vegas Ballpark.
Blackburn (4-1) took full advantage of the offensive largesse, yielding just one run (a solo homer) on three hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six innings. It was the right-hander's second straight stellar start, following last Monday's 6-3 victory at Reno in which he scattered just three hits over six shutout innings.
"I felt good today," Blackburn said. "My last couple of outings I've kind of felt like I've gotten back on track. I was fighting my body a lot early on in the season, so I've been working every day with my throwing program to get back to where I feel comfortable and am able to move the ball better and keep hitters off-balance. That's what helped me today was keeping them off-balance and being able to locate.
"My goal every time I go out there is to go six innings, whether I give up zero runs or 10. I'm just trying to save our bullpen as much as possible. Because when a starter doesn't go that deep, it definitely takes a toll on our bullpen."
That bullpen certainly got a much-needed break Sunday thanks not only to Blackburn but also Ruiz, who notched his first save by pitching the final three innings and allowing just a run on two hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
Now, after such a dominating victory, the goal of course is to build off it heading into Monday's series-finale against the Grizzlies (14-16).
"You look at the little things we did well today, and you hope that it carries over to the next day and the next series," Riordan said. "You just hope you catch that momentum wave. This was a good win for our confidence - it was good for a lot of different reasons - and we're going to enjoy it."
GETTING OFFENSIVE: The Reyes de Plata pounded out 14 hits Sunday, including five for extra bases. It was a total team effort, as every player had at least one hit and four had multi-hit games: Barreto (3-for-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI), Olson (2-for-5, 2 runs, 1 RBI), Joseph (2-for-4, 2 runs, 1 walk) and Fowler (2-for-4, 1 run, 3 RBI). Also, Payton finished with four RBI on his eighth home run, a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring groundout.
Most importantly, Las Vegas did much of the damage in the clutch, scoring six of its first eight runs with two outs.
"That's been our signature: When we score a lot of runs, we're getting those big two-out hits," Riordan says. "When we're not putting up runs in bunches, we're just not getting that big hit with two outs. There's nothing bigger than two-out RBI hits, and today we obviously did a great job of that."
PACKING THEM IN: Another game at Las Vegas Ballpark, another sellout. Including Sunday's tally of 9,286, the season attendance now stands at 147,803 through 15 games, good for a per-game average of 9,854
ON DECK: The four-game series with Fresno concludes at 7:05 p.m. Monday, when Aviators southpaw Tyler Alexander (0-1, 5.92 ERA) opposes Grizzlies right-hander Austin Voth (2-2, 3.57).
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.