For the second consecutive night, the Aviators needed a victory over the Oklahoma City Dodgers to jump back into first place for the first time since late April. And for the second consecutive night, the Aviators mounted a ninth inning rally after being forced to play catch-up for most of the game.
The difference Monday night? They finished the rally with a walk-off victory.
Trailing 9-8 entering the bottom of the ninth, Eric Campbell, Corban Joseph and Seth Brown recorded consecutive hits against Dodgers closer Kevin Quackenbush to give Las Vegas a 10-9 victory in the finale of a four-game series and seven-game homestand at Las Vegas Ballpark.
The victory, coupled with El Paso's 10-4 loss in Memphis, moved the Aviators into a first-place tie with the Chihuahuas atop the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Southern Division. Both teams are 66-48 with 26 games to play.
That Las Vegas finally caught El Paso is a testament to the players' never-say-die attitude - an attitude that allowed them to keep El Paso in their sights for more than three months, not to mention allowed them to slip past Oklahoma City (52-61) on Monday.
In a game that featured five lead changes, the Aviators faced deficits of 2-0, 7-3 and 9-8. But they used the long ball to continuously claw their way back - in fact, their first eight runs came as a result of five home runs: Brown (solo) and Mark Payton (two-run) went deep in the second; Campbell (two-run) did so in the fifth; and Beau Taylor (two-run) and Payton again (solo) left the park in the sixth.
Payton's second blast actually gave Las Vegas an 8-7 lead, its first since the second inning. But that lead lasted mere minutes, as six consecutive Dodgers reached base to start the top of the seventh. Aviators reliever J.B. Wendelken allowed consecutive singles to Kyle Garlick and Connor Joe, but Garlick slipped while rounding second base on Joe's hit and was thrown out.
It turned out to be a huge break for Wendelken, who subsequently allowed two more singles to load the bases, then issued consecutive walks to force in the tying and go-ahead runs. But the right-hander escaped further damage when he struck out Edwin Rios, then snared a ball drilled right back at him by DJ Peters.
Aviators relievers Miguel Romero and AJ Puck (3-1) held the Dodgers off the scoreboard in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, setting the stage for Las Vegas' second walk-off win in four nights against Oklahoma City. Campbell, who finished the night 3-for-3 with two walks, started the game-winning rally with a sharp single to center field. It was the eighth straight time the veteran infielder reached base safely.
Joseph, who ranks second in the PCL in batting average but was hitless in his first four at-bats, then laced a 2-2 pitch from Quackenbush (2-4) down the right-field line for a double. Campbell raced all the way around from first and barely beat the relay throw home to tie the game at 9-9. After Skye Bolt pinch-ran for Joseph at second, Brown wasted no time breaking the tie, looping Quackenbush's first pitch into a vacated area of right field.
Bolt cruised home with the winning run, then immediately pivoted and made a beeline for second base, where he and his teammates mobbed Brown in another mass celebration that has become commonplace in what has been a magical inaugural season.
GAME NOTES: Las Vegas finished the homestand 4-3, including taking three of four from Oklahoma City. … Campbell had a monster series against the Dodgers, going 11-for-15 with three homers, a double, four walks and 10 RBI. … Payton now has four multi-home run games this season, all since July 13. … Taylor was mired in a 2-for-26 slump before his two-run homer in the fifth. … Aviators third baseman Sheldon Neuse doubled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 13 games, during which he's 24-for-55 (.436) with five doubles, three homers, 11 RBI and 13 runs. … Las Vegas catcher Jonah Heim (hamstring) was activated from the injured list Monday, started at designated hitter and reached base in each of his first three plate appearances on a double, single and walk. The switch-hitter has now hit safely in 23 of 27 games since being promoted from Double-A Midland (Texas), with eight multi-hit contests. … Aviators right-hander Tanner Anderson started and went 4 1/3 innings, allowing six runs on 10 hits and two walks with five strikeouts. Las Vegas starting pitchers have now amassed a 30-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in their last eight games. … Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes went 3-for-5 with a walk, two-run homer and three RBI. Like Campbell, Barnes - who had spent the entire season with the Los Angeles Dodgers before being demoted to Oklahoma City late last month - had a huge series, homering in all four games and finishing 8-for-18 with two walks and 10 RBI. … One night after the two teams combined to use 10 pitchers, the Aviators and Dodgers trotted 11 hurlers to the mound in the series finale.
TRANSACTION ACTION: Prior to Monday's game, Aviators shortstop Jorge Mateo and relief pitcher Brian Schlitter were placed on the seven-day injured list. Mateo has been dealing with an injured left ankle, which forced him to depart Sunday's game in the fourth inning, while Schlitter has a neck ailment.
Las Vegas filled the roster spots with Heim and infielder Trace Loehr, who rejoined Las Vegas after being optioned to Class-A Stockton on Sunday. Loehr, who hit a walk-off homer in the 10th inning Friday in his first career Triple-A at-bat, was scheduled to fly back to Stockton on Monday morning, but those plans changed when Mateo was placed on the IL.
ON DECK: The PCL has a scheduled off-day Tuesday, but the Aviators will board a mid-morning flight to Iowa, where they'll begin a three-game series against the Iowa Cubs on Wednesday. Las Vegas right-hander Brian Howard (0-1, 18.00 ERA) is scheduled to start the series-opener against Cubs righty Colin Rea (11-3, 4.94). Howard will be followed in the Aviators' rotation by fellow right-handers Parker Dunshee (3-4, 5.87) and Paul Blackburn (9-3, 4.55). First pitch for all three games is 5:08 p.m. PDT.
Following the series in Iowa, the Aviators will head to Omaha, Nebraska, for a four-game series against the Storm Chasers from Saturday through August 13. After an off-day August 14, the Aviators will return to Las Vegas Ballpark for a seven-game homestand against Albuquerque (August 15-18) and Reno (August 19-21).
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.