Kratz, IL hold on for All-Star win

Indianapolis catcher homers out of PGE Park in 6-5 triumph

(Bill Gentry)

By Jared Ravich / | July 16, 2009 12:02 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In a game that had a little bit of everything, the International League held on to defeat the Pacific Coast League, 6-5, in the Triple-A All-Star Game at PGE Park.

A crowd of 16,637, the third-largest in Triple-A All-Star history, saw home runs, wild pitches, knuckleballs, 50 mph curves and a nail-biting finish.

Indianapolis Indians catcher Erik Kratz doubled and scored the IL's first run, then sent a ball completely out of PGE Park for a two-run homer to earn Major League Baseball Advanced Media's IL Top Star Award.

"Fun night," Kratz said while signing autographs after the win. "Awesome. I was really looking forward to it. It's a great opportunity. I've never been out here in Portland. They did a great job. It's a beautiful city and they put on a great display. They really showed a great side of Portland."

The Louisville Bats also had a big impact as Drew Stubbs slugged a two-run homer and starter Justin Lehr set the tone on the mound with a quick 1-2-3 opening inning.

"I was efficient," said Lehr, who was looking for a good outing after being unsatisfied with his effort for the PCL in the 2007 Triple-A All-Star Game. "I was either going to make it quick or get hit around quickly. I felt pretty sharp on three days' rest, and it turned out really well.

"These kind of games, it's like you either hit big or you miss big. Guys are trying to drive the ball and hit you early in the count. I got some quick outs, which was nice."

The PCL got a great start from Round Rock's Bud Norris, who tossed two scoreless innings. But a homer by Nashville Sounds right fielder Brendan Katin and a two-run single, double and two-run homer by Oklahoma City RedHawks third baseman Esteban German -- the PCL's Top Star -- were not enough to catch up.

"It was a nice game," said German. "We came up short, but I think everybody can be happy about the game. Everybody put up their best effort."

Norris had the same outlook after the game.

"It's not about winning or losing, it's about giving the fans what they deserve, and that's a good show. I think they got that," he said.

Lehigh Valley IronPigs right-hander Drew Carpenter pitched the second for the IL and made short work of the heart of the PCL lineup, striking out the side on nine pitches for the win.

Norris benefited from a great defensive play in the second. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Shelley Duncan led off and reached on a dropped third strike on a wild pitch that might have brushed the slugger back had he not tried to hit it. Nashville Sounds shortstop Alcides Escobar fielded a grounder by Lehigh Valley's Mike Cervenak and started an inning-ending double play.

"I was excited and pumped to get out there," Norris said. "The first pitch was a strike, so that was a good sign. The double play in the second inning was huge."

The IL got on the board with three runs in the third, all off Round Rock's Yorman Bazardo, who took the loss. With one out, Kratz ripped a double just inside the left-field line and Durham Bulls shortstop Reid Brignac doubled to the gap in left-center to drive him home. One out later, Stubbs homered high off the wall in left.

"Seems like this year I haven't really hit as many home runs as I have in the past," said Stubbs, who's known for his speed as much as his power. "I've used my legs a lot more, but it's always fun to get one out like that."

The PCL responded in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Katin took a 1-2 offering from Syracuse Chiefs reliever J.D. Martin and put it in roughly the same place Stubbs sent his blast to make it 3-1.

The IL threatened in the fourth against Fresno Grizzlies right-hander Kevin Pucetas, who got Brignac to fly to left with the bases loaded to keep the PCL within two runs.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees center fielder Austin Jackson led off the fifth with a hard triple to right off Portland Beavers right-hander Scott Patterson, who was pitching in his home park. One out later, pinch-hitter Justin Huber of the Rochester Red Wings, who called PGE Park home a year ago, lifted a fly ball to shallow center that was deep enough to score Jackson.

Again, the PCL answered immediately. With Pawtucket Red Sox righty Jose Vaquedano on the mound, Matt Miller of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and Chris Robinson of the Iowa Cubs came through with back-to-back singles. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position with one out and German singled to center to clear the bases and make it 4-3.

Despite the wild pitch and pair of runs scored, Kratz had nothing but praise for Vaquedano, who has a distinctive sidearm delivery.

"You face those guys during the season and you're like, 'Man, how am I ever going to hit against this guy' and I'm up there trying to catch him. You know, he's unbelievable," Kratz said. "I used to face him when he threw overhand, when he threw over the top. Now he's down underneath and he's even more nasty. I thought he was nasty before and he's unbelievable now."

German stole second and Colorado Springs' Eric Young Jr. stroked Vaquedano's low 3-2 pitch to shallow center, putting runners at the corners. Durham's Dale Thayer relieved and got Nashville's Alcides Escobar to pop up to right, with Young getting doubled up to end the inning.

Charlie Haeger of the Albuquerque Isotopes took the hill for the PCL in the sixth and got two quick outs with his knuckleball. But Syracuse Chiefs second baseman Seth Bynum singled and Kratz blasted a two-run homer over the fence in left and onto 18th Avenue, extending the IL's lead to 6-3.

"It was a fastball," Kratz said. "I was looking for a fastball, 3-0, and I got it."

The challenge of handling an entire staff of unfamiliar pitchers was even more of a thrill for Kratz than trying to park one on the streets of Portland.

"I love catching. You don't usually get voted in for catching or playing third or whatever, you get voted in because the guys who vote in are about numbers and the offense," Kratz said. "Catching these guys? You know you face them all the time throughout the year and getting to catch them is great. I love that part of the game, the catching part of the game."

The game sped up in the late innings. Nashville lefty R.J. Swindle, with his low delivery and 50-55 mph curveball, tossed a scoreless seventh for the PCL and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Zachary Kroenke followed suit in the bottom half. Sacramento's Jay Marshall and Buffalo's Nelson Figueroa put zeros on the scoreboard in the eighth.

Jeremy Hill of the Salt Lake Bees and Jess Todd of the Memphis Redbirds combined to hold the IL scoreless in the ninth before things got interesting.

Portland's Chad Huffman gave the home crowd something to cheer about with a leadoff double off Jim Miller of the Norfolk Tides. Eric Munson flied out, but German came through with a two-out, two-run homer off Pawtucket's Fernando Cabrera.

"I definitely did not expect to be trotting home from third," Huffman said, "especially when [German] hit opposite field. It's a long way here in right. That was a pretty impressive shot."

Cabrera, who allowed just one homer over 30 innings before the All-Star break, bounced back to strike out Young and record the save.

Jared Ravich is a Senior Technical Producer for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More