WEST SACRAMENTO- The Grizzlies have struggled with bullpen issues all season long, but the issue has never been more prevalent than over the last week of the season. Despite taking a four-run lead to the bottom of the eighth inning, Fresno could not hold off their Highway 99 rival Sacramento River Cats, falling 6-5 at Raley Field on Friday night.
With a matchup of power hitter Chris Carter and power pitcher Marc Kroon, it was a 20-foot, squib single that spun away from Fresno catcher Hector Sanchez to allow Eric Sogard to race home with the game-winning run. The real story of the game, though, was the bullpen's collapse, something that has become all-too routine. Friday night marked the third time in the Grizzlies last eight games that the 'pen has inherited a four-run lead it was unable to hold.
Sacramento (45-24) struck first on the power of Jai Miller's solo shot to left-center off Grizzlies starter Matt Yourkin on just the second batter he faced. The Grizzlies leveled the score at one apiece in the top of the third, thanks to a sacrifice fly by Tyler Graham to score James Simmons.
Fresno (29-40) pushed ahead with a three-run top of the fourth inning, taking advantage of River Cats starter Willie Eyre's short pitch count and some opportunities on the base paths. Conor Gillaspie led off with a walk and moved over to third on a single by Brett Pill off the top of third baseman Wes Timmons' glove. That chased Eyre to bring on Fautino De Los Santos, whom Thomas Neal greeted on the first pitch with a solid single to center, scoring Gillaspie. Pill and Neal then moved to second and third on a passed ball, and Pill scored the second run of the inning with Neal going to third on a wild pitch. With one out, Hector Sanchez capped the frame, singling to right through the drawn-in infield to make it 4-1.
The score stayed that way until the top of the eighth, when Sanchez notched his second RBI of the night on a two-out, ground rule double down the line in right field, scoring Gillaspie from second. That gave the backstop his second consecutive multi-hit and multi-RBI game. Gillaspie, meanwhile, notched his third straight multi-hit performance, finishing 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI.
The River Cats tied the score with a four-run rally in the eighth. Eric Sogard led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Casey Daigle, on for his second inning of work. One out later, Andy LaRoche singled Sogard home, and Chris Carter followed with a towering, two-run home run. Matt Carson followed with a bloop double to right to put the tying run at second, bringing Ronnie Ray on from the 'pen. Anthony Recker delivered a game-tying double down the left-field line.
Yourkin finished 6.0 strong innings of one-run, four-hit ball, as he did not allow a runner past second base after the Miller first-inning homer. The southpaw walked just one while fanning six, the highest strikeout total he has recorded in his last five times on the hill. He was robbed of his fifth win for the second straight outing, after allowing just one unearned run over six frames and leaving with a four-run cushion in his previous start.
The Grizzlies fall to 11 games below .500 for the second time this season, matching their low-water mark. They also trail the first-place River Cats by 16.0 games, their largest divisional deficit of the season.
Home plate umpire Mike Jarboe was struck in the mask off the carom on the passed ball in the fourth inning, and eventually left the game in the middle of the fifth. There was a 15-minute delay before the River Cats batted in the bottom of the inning. First base umpire Tripp Gibson took over behind the plate the rest of the way.
WP: Chulk (3-2); LP: Ray (1-1); S: None; HR: Miller (15), Carter (5)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.