Peoria's quest to get past the first round of the Midwest League playoffs got off to a good start, thanks in large part to a very big slugger.
Cardinals No. 16 prospect Luken Baker homered and supplied all the offense for the Chiefs, who blanked Quad Cities, 3-0, to win the opener of their first-round playoff series on Wednesday night at Dozer Park. It was the first postseason shutout by Peoria since 1986 and its first-ever at home.
Gameday box score
The game was scoreless through three innings, during which the Chiefs were held without a hit by Edgardo Sandoval. Yariel Gonzalez walked leading off the fourth and stole second before Baker blasted a 1-2 pitch over the left-center field fence. Peoria loaded the bases in the fifth with one out and Baker cashed in his third RBI with a sacrifice fly to center.
"It felt good," Baker said of the homer. "I knew we needed to get something out of that inning to take advantage of the great pitching we were getting. I saw an opportunity to find the barrel and at the very least get [Gonzalez] over to third. I got a pitch I was able to hit and took advantage of it.
"With the sacrifice fly, I knew I needed to get at least one run in. I took a pitch early in the at-bat I probably should have hit, but once it got to two strikes, I found a way to get the ball in play without hitting it on the ground."
The performance continued a strong professional debut for the TCU product, who batted .319/.386/.460 with 15 extra-base hits and 22 RBIs in 45 regular-season games. Selected 75th overall in this year's Draft, despite missing time with a broken fibula and torn ligaments in his left leg, Baker hit .500 in eight games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League following a one-game debut with Peoria. He returned to the Midwest League on July 21 and was a key component in the Chiefs' playoff push, batting .288/.359/.417 with 12 extra-base hits and 15 RBIs in 37 games down the stretch.
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"This year has been a great experience," the Spring, Texas, native said. "I love playing ball and the more we win, the more we get to play. I'm trying to keep playing as long as I can."
Nick Dunn, Julio Rodriguez and Gonzalez had two hits apiece for Peoria, which waited out a 48-minute rain delay in the top of the eighth.
Starter Johan Oviedo (1-0) made the most of the three-run lead. After losing his last three starts of the regular season, the Cardinals' No. 24 prospect yielded three hits and four walks while striking out seven over six innings to push the Chiefs within one win of the semifinals.
Robbie Gordon and Patrick Dayton pitched 1 2/3 innings and Kodi Whitley retired the last four batters to earn the save.
Alfredo Angarita had two of Quad Cities' four hits.
Sandoval (0-1) was charged with two runs on two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in four frames.
The series shifts to Modern Woodmen Park, where the River Bandits will host Game 2 on Thursday night.
In other Midwest League playoff action:
Hot Rods 4, Lugnuts 3 (10 innings)
Rays No. 7 prospect Ronaldo Hernandez's infield single with two outs in the 10th scored Taylor Walls with the go-ahead run to give Bowling Green a 1-0 lead in their first-round matchup. Jim Haley homered and singled for the Hot Rods. Starter Tobias Myers, Tampa Bay's 23rd-ranked prospect, gave up one run on two hits with three strikeouts in five innings. Matt Seelinger (1-0) fanned four over 2 1/3 perfect frames for the win. Andres Sotillo homered and singled, while Norberto Obeso hit a two-run triple for Lansing. Gameday box score
Whitecaps 6, Loons 0
Brad Bass (1-0) struck out seven and scattered six hits over seven innings to give West Michigan a 1-0 series lead against Great Lakes. Christopher Proctor delivered a three-run double for the Whitecaps, who got two hits from Brady Policelli. Dodgers No. 27 prospect Gerardo Carrillo (0-1) allowed six runs -- four earned -- on seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings for the Loons. Romer Cuadrado went 3-for-4 in the loss. Gameday box score
Kernels, Snappers (postponed, rain)
Game 1 between Cedar Rapids and Beloit was postponed due to rain. The teams will try again to open the best-of-3 first-round series on Thursday night in Beloit and will play a doubleheader, if necessary, on Friday when the series shifts to Cedar Rapids.