Prior to the start of the Pacific Coast League semifinals Wednesday, Triple-A Fresno skipper Rodney Linares predicted the matchup will be decided by each side's biggest strengths -- his team's offense and the El Paso bullpen.
After roughing up starter Walker Lockett for seven runs, it took more than four innings for the vaunted Grizzlies' lineup to break through against the Chihuahuas' relief core. When the dust settled, Astros No. 14 prospect Myles Straw provided the necessary heroics as Fresno outlasted El Paso, 8-7, in Game 1 of the best-of-5 semifinals series at Southwest University Park.
"The way the game was going, it wasn't over until it was over," Straw said. "They made it a tough game on us."
Gameday box score
El Paso trotted out 6-foot-9 left-hander Brad Wieck for his second inning of relief in the 10th, but a one-out walk to shortstop Alex De Goti and a liner over shortstop by Astros No. 15 prospect Garrett Stubbs set the stage for Straw. The Chihuahuas opted to play the matchups and bring in the right-handed Colten Brewer to face the right-handed hitter, who knocked a chopper beyond the reach of second baseman Carlos Asuaje to drive in the run.
"I just told myself to try to get to him early before you get behind and he starts throwing you his curveball," said Straw, who struck out in his one previous appearance against Brewer this season. "I just remember his curveball being really good. His fastball is a cutter too. I was trying to get something out over the plate and kind of go that way with it."
Video: Straw comes up clutch for Fresno
The clutch knock was Straw's only hit in five at-bats, but he also walked and stole a base in the second. In 131 games between Fresno and Double-A Corpus Christi, the 23-year-old led all of professional baseball with 70 total steals while getting caught just nine times. Straw moved up to the Grizzlies on June 16 after batting .327/.414/.390 with 11 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs. He hit .257/.349/.317 with 10 doubles and 35 steals in the final 66 regular-season contests with the Grizzlies.
Fresno capitalized on El Paso's early mistakes, scoring four times with just one hit in the first. A pair of walks and a hit batsmen loaded the bases for third-ranked Yordan Alvarez, who promptly lofted a two-run double to left. Nick Tanielu then reached on a fielder's choice that scored another before Derek Fisher pushed Alvarez across by bouncing into a forceout at second.
"You can never count this team out," Straw said. "We're capable of scoring at any part in the lineup, so that didn't surprise me."
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Lockett gave up another run in the fifth, allowing MLB.com's No. 8 overall prospect Kyle Tucker to score on a wild ball four to Alvarez before Tanielu jumped on a first pitch and cracked it over the left-field fence to make it a 7-5 game. Upon Lockett's exit, the Grizzlies were held to just two hits for 4 1/3 innings before the 10th-inning rally.
Jerry Keel recorded the final out in the fifth, T.J. Weir yielded both Fresno hits in two-thirds of an inning. Kyle McGrath got the Chihuahuas through the seventh and Gerardo Reyes pitched a hitless eighth before Wieck hurled a 1-2-3 ninth. Lockett was tagged with five earned runs on four hits and five walks before exiting after 4 2/3 frames.
"They ran out some good arms," Straw said. "They had Reyes, he was out there throwing 100 [mph]. A couple tough lefties. They kind of mixed and matched and that's kind of what we expect in playoff baseball."
Dusty Coleman was an important figure in two El Paso comebacks, first with a two-run homer in the third before smashing a liner to the warning track for a sacrifice fly that tied the game, 7-7, in the seventh. The Chihuahuas also took a 5-4 lead on RBI singles by Ty France and Brett Nicholas in the third. Veteran Allen Craig hit a solo homer and scored twice while catcher Raffy Lopez had two hits, including an RBI single in the seventh.
The series stays in Southwest University Park for Game 2 on Thursday with first pitch scheduled for 9:05 p.m. ET.
In other PCL playoff action:
Memphis-Oklahoma City, ppd. (wet conditions)