SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -
On Tuesday night, the Stockton Ports' offensive struggles were masked by a masterful, near no-hit pitching performance. Wednesday night in San Bernardino proved to be a different story. When the offense finally did come around, it proved to be too little and too late for the Boys of Banner Island. Though the Ports scored four runs on five hits in the ninth and had the potential-tying run at third base, the Inland Empire 66ers were able to hang on for a 6-5 victory at Arrowhead Credit Union Park.
It was Inland Empire in control for most of the ballgame. Ports starter Craig Italiano (3-3) would show some good numbers by night's end, but would also be knicked up for five runs in six innings of work. With one out in the second, Steven Caseres walked, and Pedro Baez followed with a two-run homer to left give Inland Empire a 2-0 lead.
In the fourth inning, Caseres would lead off with a double and Baez followed with an infield single. Justin Fuller came up next and knocked an RBI single to right, giving the 66ers a 3-0 lead and putting runners at the corners. Fuller would then get caught in a pick-off rundown between first and second. In the process, Baez would score from third. Despite Fuller being tagged out, Baez' run gave Inland Empire a 4-0 cushion.
With two down in the fifth, Scott Van Slyke hit a solo blast off Italiano with two outs, putting the 66ers up by a handful at 5-0. Italiano would take the loss despite recording a season-high in strikeouts (9) and an season low in walks (1).
Offensively, Stockton struggled the majority of the night. 66ers starter Josh Wall, in his first outing since aggravating a groin injury on April 10, pitched well in three innings of work and kept the Ports out of the run column in all three frames.
Kendy Batista (1-2) took over in the fourth inning and was dominant for the majority of his outing. The Ports did have their chances, however. In the fifth, the Ports had runners at first and second with one out. Batista bore down and got David Thomas and Jermaine Mitchell to strike out to escape the jam.
In the seventh, the Ports had runners at first and second again with one down. Batista got Michael Richard to fly to right and struck out Thomas to end the threat.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Ports would make a defensive mistake that would ultimately wind up costing them the ballgame. With Pat Currin on the hill and one out, Alfredo Gonzalez hit a routine bouncer to short. Richard fielded the ball, but had problems transferring from the glove to his throwing hand. By the time he threw to first Gonzalez had crossed the bag, and the play would be ruled as the game's lone error. Gonzalez would go to second on a wild pitch, and with two outs, he would score on Van Slyke's second RBI of the game on a single to right, putting the 66ers up 6-0.
At the time, both the run and the error seemed to be inconsequential. Stockton, however, would go on to score five unanswered runs and make the 66ers sweat down the stretch. In the top of the eighth, the Ports put runners at first and second with one down. Batista would strike out Raul Padron for the inning's second out, then be lifted for Jacobo Meque. Meque yielded an RBI single to Alex Valdez, a hit that extended his hitting streak to nine and put the Ports on the board at 6-1.
In the bottom of the eighth, Inland Empire had a chance to put the game in their back pocket. Baez doubled to left to start the inning of Currin, who was then lifted for Leonardo Espinal who had been promoted earlier in the day from Low-A Kane County. Espinal struck out Fuller, but walked Kenley Jansen and gave up a single to Christian Lara to load the bases with one out. Espinal, however, would work out of the jam nicely, striking out Trayvon Robinson and getting Gonzalez to line to first to end the inning.
The Ports would send nine men to the plate in the top of the ninth. With Meque still on the hill, Frank Martinez led off the frame with an infield single. Richard followed with an RBI double to right, making it 6-2. Meque would then strike out Thomas, but then allowed an RBI single to Mitchell, scoring Richard and pulling the Ports to within three runs at 6-3. Meque then walked Todd Johnson to put the tying run at the plate. Justin Orenduff (SV, 3) was summoned from the bullpen to try for the final two outs. Orenduff would start off by striking out Matt Smith, but then gave up back-to-back RBI singles to Padron and Valdez, pulling the Ports to within a run at 6-5, and putting the potential-tying run 90 ft. away at third base. With runners at the corners, Orenduff would get Christian Vitters to ground to short, ending the ballgame.
Stockton and Inland Empire will play the rubber match of their three-game set with a matinee contest on Thursday at Arrowhead Credit Union Park. Scott Hodsdon (1-3, 7.07 ERA) will head to the mound for the Ports, opposed by right-hander Steven Johnson (2-2, 4.75 ERA) for the 66ers. First pitch is set for 11 a.m. PDT.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.