The Lancaster JetHawks had seen enough of Rancho Cucamonga Quakes left-hander Leo Crawford in three regular-season matchups. In meeting No. 4, they finally solved him.
Rockies No. 11 prospect Tyler Nevin homered, doubled and drove in two runs as Lancaster opened its best-of-5 California League semifinal series with an 8-4 win over Rancho Cucamonga.
Gameday box score
"The guy we faced tonight, he's had our number a couple of times. He's a really good pitcher," Nevin said. "He doesn't throw that hard, but he throws exactly what he wants, where he wants it. He gets guys out. Tonight, we just hit his mistakes. That's how you beat good pitchers. I got a few balls up and I did what I was supposed to do with them. He'd get balls up to other guys, and they got out. That's just how it is, but we capitalized on some mistakes, and that's how you beat a good pitcher."
The JetHawks jumped on th,eir nemesis early. Crawford, who was 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA in three regular-season starts against them, yielded four first-inning runs -- two on a blast to right-center by Nevin. Bret Boswell followed with a solo shot to right and Rockies No. 22 prospect Vince Fernandez added an RBI double as the home team sent eight to the plate.
"Very few times do you see a lineup like ours," Nevin said. "We play different guys throughout the year, and -- I play first base a lot -- they come to first base, specifically catchers, and they'll just go, 'Hey, man, there is no break in this lineup. You're all super-aggressive.' I've had guys ask me, 'What do they teach you guys hitting? What's the mentality?' Honestly, we just go up there and try to be the best we can, take our best swing every single time. As soon as we get a pitch to hit, we don't take it. I think that's why we're so successful -- we hit the mistakes. Something my dad always told me is you don't make a living hitting good pitches, you make a living hitting mistakes. We're just doing really well with that."
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Nevin doubled to left leading off the third and Lancaster kept its foot on the gas as the night unfolded. Alan Trejo belted a leadoff homer in the fifth, finishing 3-for-3 and a triple away from the cycle, while Boswell added a two-run blast in the seventh. It was the extension of a terrific season at the plate for the JetHawks, who feature the league's top two hitters -- batting champion Colton Welker at .333 and Nevin at .328 -- as part of an offense that led the league with a .283 batting average. Welker went hitless on Wednesday, but his presence in the lineup has been formidable.
"'Welk' is one of my good friends. He's my roommate here," Nevin said. "Talking to him, we just help each other so much. As soon as a pitcher comes in that he's faced before I have or I need some confirmation on something, he's the first guy I ask, 'What's he got? What does he like to do?' At any point, you can pretty much see us in the dugout right next to each other, talking. It's great. He's a pretty similar hitter to where I am. We both have up-the-middle approaches, to right-center, and so they usually pitch us the exact same way. It's awesome, personally, for me to get to hit behind him and basically see a little cheat sheet of how they're going to pitch me.
"[The batting title race is] not something people talk about as it's going on, but he's one of my good friends. It was kind of fun every day to say, 'Who's on top? How's it going?' He was pretty much on top the whole time, but it was fun chasing him."
Rancho Cucamonga never got closer than three runs, kept off-balance by starter Brandon Gold, who gave up four runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings.
Omar Estevez and Cody Thomas homered for the Quakes.
"These kinds of games, momentum is almost the biggest thing," Nevin said. "We took it early. Gold pitched great for us tonight. I think he went nine up, nine down to start the game. Him shutting them down in the top of the first and us jumping ahead, that set the tone for the rest of the game. It's about keeping that through the series and the rest of each game. We've got a fresh one tomorrow, and we've got to bring the same atmosphere."
Game 2 is Thursday in Lancaster.
In other California League playoff action:
Rawhide 5, Ports 3
D-backs No. 7 prospect Marcus Wilson drilled a three-run homer in the ninth as Visalia took Game 1 of the other semifinal series on the road. Wilson's blast, just the second extra-base hit of the night for the Rawhide, snapped a 2-2 deadlock. Stockton got homers from Brett Siddall and Viosergy Rosa but went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. The Ports host Game 2 on Thursday. Gameday box score