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Aviators rally for 4-3 10-inning walk-off victory over Chihuahuas

First baseman Francisco Peña delivers the game-winning hit and Las Vegas once again receives outstanding pitching to cap 5-1 series against El Paso
Shortstop Pete Kozma drove in a run with a third-inning single and scored the tying run in the bottom of the 10th as the Aviators — playing as the Reyes de Plata — defeated the El Paso Chihuahuas 4-3 on Tuesday at Las Vegas Ballpark. (Steve Spatafore | Las Vegas Aviators)
July 21, 2021

The Aviators arrived at Las Vegas Ballpark on Tuesday with a chance to do something they hadn’t done all season: defeat an opponent five times in a six-game series. It took morphing into their alter ego (the Reyes de Plata), it took some tremendous pitching and it took a rally

The Aviators arrived at Las Vegas Ballpark on Tuesday with a chance to do something they hadn’t done all season: defeat an opponent five times in a six-game series. It took morphing into their alter ego (the Reyes de Plata), it took some tremendous pitching and it took a rally in the extra innings, but in the end … mission accomplished.

Trailing 3-2 with one out in the bottom of the 10th, outfielder Greg Deichmann and first baseman Francisco Peña delivered consecutive run-scoring singles to carry Las Vegas to a 4-3 victory over the El Paso Chihuahuas in Tuesday’s finale of a six-game series before a crowd of 5,900.

With the victory, the Aviators (34-32) improved to 11-4 in their last 15 games overall, 8-1 in their last nine games at home, 6-0 in extra innings this season and climbed two games over .500 for the first time since they were 18-16 on June 13.

Unlike the previous four wins over El Paso (26-36) in the series, though, this one was far from easy.

After shortstop Pete Kozma gave Las Vegas a 1-0 lead with a third-inning RBI single, El Paso quickly wiped that out on consecutive pitches leading off the fourth, when Luis Campusano and Pedro Florimón crushed back-to-back home runs off Aviators starting pitcher Daulton Jefferies.

The solo blasts gave the Chihuahuas a 2-0 lead — just their fourth of the entire series — but it lasted only until the bottom of the fifth, when Las Vegas outfielder Skye Bolt smacked a leadoff double and scored two batters later on third baseman Vimael Machín’s single.

From there, both pitching staffs took over. After Florimón’s homer, Jefferies and relievers Ben Bracewell and A.J. Puk combined to retire 18 of 21 Chihuahuas through the ninth inning. And even though the Aviators threatened to grab the lead when they put two runners on base in the seventh inning and then loaded the bases in the eighth, El Paso starter Luke Westphal and four relievers managed to preserve the 2-2 tie.

Then came the 10th inning.

With a runner placed on second base to start the 10th per Minor League Baseball’s extra-innings pace-of-play rules, El Paso took a 3-2 lead on a single and a double-play groundout against Las Vegas right-hander James Naile. However, Naile prevented any further damage by striking out Chihuahuas right fielder Tucupita Marcano to end the inning.

Kozma then trotted to second base as Las Vegas’ placed runner in the bottom of the inning, and he remained there when El Paso reliever Alex Powers retired catcher Carlos Pérez on a flyout to center field. That brought up Deichmann, who fouled off several pitches before ripping a line drive to right field that scored Kozma with the tying run.

Deichmann took second base on the throw home, which proved pivotal, because when Peña smacked Powers’ 1-1 pitch to center field, Deichmann was able to score easily.

While Deichmann and Peña came through with the most important hits of the night, it was the Aviators’ pitchers who stole the show. Jefferies, who dominated El Paso in a 5-1 series-opening win Thursday, was terrific yet again. Aside from the home runs in the fourth, Jefferies scattered five other hits in six innings of work, didn’t walk a batter and tied his season high with nine strikeouts (including at least one in every inning).

In all, Jefferies, Bracewell, Puk and Naile combined to strikeout 15 batters without issuing a single walk. It capped what was easily the best performance for the Aviators’ pitching staff in a series all season, as they limited El Paso to just 17 runs over six games.

GAME NOTES: The game was twice delayed briefly because of lightning concerns. … Naile earned the victory, improving to 6-0 this season (all in relief). … Over his last three starts, Jefferies has allowed just six runs on 12 hits with two walks and 19 strikeouts in 19 innings (2.84 ERA). In the process, he’s lowered his season ERA from 6.17 to 5.00. … For the series, Las Vegas starting pitchers yielded a total of 23 hits and seven walks in 33 innings. Four of those starters — Jesús Luzardo, Miguel Romero, Paul Blackburn and Daulton Jefferies (twice) all tossed at least five innings. The other — newcomer Homer Bailey — pitched four innings. … Peña (2-for-5, RBI), Deichmann (2-for-5, run, RBI) and Machín (2-for-4, RBI) had six of the Aviators’ nine hits. … Machín finished the series 9-for-19 with three homers, eight RBI, eight runs and five walks. However, his eight-game streak of scoring at least one run came to an end. … Deichmann is now riding a seven-game hitting streak, going 9-for-27 with seven runs, seven RBI and six walks. … With his RBI single in the third, Kozma extended his hitting streak to five in a row (7-for-19). He now has five hitting streaks this season of at least five games. … Second baseman Nate Mondou (1-for-4, run, RBI) has hit safely in 15 of 17 games dating to July 3, recording multiple hits in nine of those contests. For the month, he’s batting .352 (25-for-71) with eight doubles, 11 runs and 14 RBI. … Not only are the Aviators 6-for-6 in extra innings, but all six wins have come in 10 innings.

ON DECK: Following their regularly scheduled off day Wednesday, the Aviators will travel to Salt Lake City for a six-game series against the Bees. Right-handers Homer Bailey (0-0, 4.50 ERA), Miguel Romero (1-3, 6.50) and Paul Blackburn (3-4, 4,41) are slated to start the first three games for Las Vegas.

The Aviators will return home July 29 to start its second and final 12-game homestand of the season against Tacoma (July 29-August 3) and Salt Lake City (August 5-10).

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