For the first three games of their four-game series against the Salt Lake Bees at Las Vegas Ballpark, the Aviators played with fire, falling behind in each contest only to rally to win each time. On Friday night, the Aviators played with fire once again, only this time, they got burned.
After erasing a pair of early deficits to take a seemingly insurmountable 7-3 lead, the Aviators (21-15) allowed four runs in the ninth inning to squander that advantage, then one in the 11th to lose the game 8-7 before a sellout crowd of 9,879. The stunning loss cost Las Vegas a four-game sweep, as the team dropped to 4-4 on its current homestand.
Left fielder Luis Rengifo delivered the winning hit for the Bees (11-23), lacing a two-out RBI single to left off Aviators reliever Kyle Lobstein (1-2) that scored Wilfredo Tovar from second base, where he started the 11th inning based on Minor League Baseball's extra-inning, pace-of-play rules. After failing to score in the bottom of the 10th despite loading the bases with one out, Las Vegas went down in order in the 11th against Jared Walsh, a two-way player who actually started the game at first base.
While Rengifo's third hit of the night was the one that ended it, the real crusher for the Aviators occurred in the top of the ninth. After the Bees scored twice to cut their deficit to 7-5, designated hitter Taylor Ward hammered a two-out, two-strike, opposite-field home run to right field off Las Vegas closer Brian Schlitter to even the score at 7.
It was a shocking turn of events, considering Las Vegas starter Paul Blackburn and two relievers pitched four scoreless innings going into the ninth. After southpaw Ryan Dull struck out the first batter to start the final frame, an Aviators four-game sweep looked inevitable. But that's when the Bees stormed back, scoring twice on two doubles and a single to set the stage for Ward's home run, which came on an 0-2 pitch.
Ward's blast, followed by Rengifo's winning hit, spoiled a night in which Las Vegas battled back from deficits of 2-1 and 3-2, with shortstop Jorge Mateo (two-run HR in the third) and third baseman Sheldon Neuse (three-run HR in the fifth) delivering the big blows.
However, after three straight nights in which the Aviators pulled one out of the proverbial hat, it was the Bees who would turn the final trick of the series.
Game Notes: Franklin Barreto (2-for-3, two walks, run), Collin Theroux (2-for-4, run), and Nick Martini (2-for-3, run, RBI) all had multi-hit games for the Aviators, with Theroux's solid night coming on his 25th birthday … Mateo and Dustin Fowler extended their hitting streaks to nine and six games, respectively. Mateo is 15-for-44 (.341) during his hot run, while Fowler is 11-for-27 (.407). However, Corban Joseph saw his eight-game hitting streak come to an end, as he went 0-for-5 with a walk. Joseph is still batting .500 over his last nine games (17-for-34). … Rengifo had a huge night for Salt Lake, reaching base all six times he came to the plate on an error, two weeks and three singles. He also stole a base, scored twice and drove in two. … Friday's sellout was the 17th through the first 20 games at Las Vegas Ballpark.
A's on the Mend: Two days after the Oakland A's sent Martini to Las Vegas to begin a rehab assignment, they did the same with outfielder/first baseman Mark Canha. Canha, who has been on the injured list since April 29 because of a sprained wrist, started in center field and went 1-for-4 with a double and an RBI sacrifice fly. Martini - who is recovering from a sprained right knee that has sidelined him all season - has played two games with the Aviators, going 3-for-6 with a run and two RBI.
On Deck: The Aviators conclude their season-long 12-game homestand with a four-game series against the Tacoma Rainers, the top affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The series kicks off at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, when Aviators southpaw Tyler Alexander (0-2, 7.52 ERA) opposes Rainers lefty Justus Sheffield (1-1, 3.76).
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.