There certainly are no guarantees in the unpredictable world of baseball. But if ever there was a game the Aviators seemed destined to win before the first pitch was thrown, it was Tuesday night's contest against the Reno Aces at Las Vegas Ballpark.
For starters, they had one of baseball's top pitching prospects on the mound in 21-year-old southpaw Jesús Luzardo, who looked every bit like the real deal in his first two starts for Las Vegas. Also, it was a non-weekend game, which the Aviators have thoroughly dominated this season, going 33-10 combined from Monday through Thursday.
Finally, as part of Minor League Baseball's ongoing Copa de la Diversión ("Fun Cup") initiative that celebrates Hispanic/Latino culture in local communities, they were taking the field as their alter-ego, the Reyes de Plata. And when donning the blue-and-white Reyes de Plata jerseys this season, Las Vegas was unbeaten at 4-0.
Sure enough, destiny was achieved - but barely.
Leading wire-to-wire but having to dodge one Reno comeback attempt after another, the Reyes de Plata escaped with their second 8-7 victory in as many nights, this one before a crowd of 7,276. Luzardo did his part on the mound, pitching four sensational innings, while Seth Brown, Beau Taylor and Mark Payton delivered at the plate, combining to go 7-for-11 with a homer, two triples, two doubles, four runs and four RBI.
Corban Joseph and Jorge Mateo added home runs for Las Vegas (48-37), which won its third straight one-run game against Reno. And once again, it was far from easy.
The Reyes de Plata built leads of 4-0, 7-3 and 8-5, but for the second consecutive night the Aces (37-47) used the late-inning long ball to put a scare into their rivals to the south. On Monday, Reno entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 8-5, but hit a pair of solo home runs off Aviators reliever Ryan Dull to pull within 8-7 before Dull ended it by striking out Yasmany Tomás.
Then on Tuesday, Las Vegas took another 8-5 lead into the ninth, this time handing the ball to Ben Bracewell. The right-hander easily recorded the first two outs, then walked Domingo Leyba on five pitches to bring up Kevin Cron, who earlier in the game hit his Pacific Coast League-leading 28th home run of the season and third of the series. Cron then added to those totals when he obliterated Bracewell's 1-1 pitch that flew out of the ballpark in left-center field.
After Cron crossed home plate, Tomás once again dug into the batter's box representing the tying run. And once again, he ended the game, this time on a lazy fly ball to center field.
With that, the Aviators improved to 5-0 as the Reyes de Plata, 34-10 in Monday through Thursday games (including 9-2 on Tuesdays) and 7-5 against the Aces this season. They also secured their 10th series win of the season, including the third in the last four, and moved to within 3½ games of first-place El Paso in the PCL Pacific Southern division.
THE KID DEALS AGAIN: Luzardo was virtually unhittable in his third start for Las Vegas, retiring 10 of the first 11 batters he faced (striking out five of them), while yielding only Tomás' leadoff double in the second inning. The only other mistake Luzardo made came with one out in the fourth, when Cron smacked a 2-0 pitch for an opposite-field homer.
Cron's blast hardly phased Luzardo, though, as he needed just two more pitches to retire the next two hitters, ending the inning and his extremely efficient outing. The hard-throwing lefty got through four innings on just 45 pitches, 29 of which were strikes. He now has a 3.65 ERA and an 18-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 1/3 innings with the Aviators.
STILL STREAKING: Joseph, Heim and Payton anchored the bottom of the Las Vegas order Tuesday night, and all three extended hitting streaks during the four-run second inning.
Joseph has now hit safely in 15 consecutive games, tying Mateo for the team's longest hitting streak of the season. During the streak, the veteran infielder is 30-for-58 (.517 batting average) with seven doubles, two triples, two home runs, 20 runs, 18 RBI and 10 multi-hit games. Since June 1, Joseph has at least one hit in 21 of the 22 games he's played, going 40-for-81 (.494) with 12 multi-hit games and just six strikeouts.
Heim stretched his hitting streak to eight games, during which he's 13-for-26 (.500). Since being promoted from Double-A on June 9, the switch-hitting Heim is batting .462 with six doubles, four home runs and 15 RBI, while hitting safely in 15 of 17 games.
Finally, Payton went 2-for-4 and now has at least one hit in six straight games, going 12-for-24 with two doubles, two triples, one home run, six runs and five RBI.
GAME NOTES: Trey McNutt (3-1) picked up the victory for Las Vegas, allowing a solo home run in 1 1/3 innings of relief. … The Reyes de Plata spotted Luzardo a 4-0 lead when they hit for the cycle in the second inning, as Brown tripled, Taylor doubled, Heim singled, and Joseph and Payton homered, all against Reno starter Braden Shipley (2-4). … After a triple, single and double in his first three at-bats, Brown needed a home run to complete the cycle when he came up for the final time in the seventh. Instead, he walked, stole second and scored his third run of the night on Taylor's triple. … Mateo's fifth-inning home run established a new career high. … Through the first three games of the series, Reno's Leyba went 10-for-15 with five homers and 12 RBI, but he went hitless in his first four at-bats Tuesday before walking against Bracewell in the ninth.
ON DECK: The Aviators conclude their five-game series (and homestand) against Reno at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday with the annual July 3 Fireworks Extravaganza. In a battle of right-handers, Jake Buchanan (3-5, 5.90 ERA) is slated to pitch for Las Vegas opposite Ben Lively (4-1, 4.00), who will be making his second start for the Aces since the being traded from the Kansas City Royals to the Arizona Diamondbacks (Reno's parent club).
Following Wednesday's game, the Aviators will travel to Albuquerque for a four-game set against the Isotopes, followed by the three-day All-Star break. The Aviators return to Las Vegas Ballpark on July 11 to begin a brief four-game homestand against the Salt Lake Bees.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.