People don’t call baseball a game of inches for nothing.
Trailing by a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Vallejo Admirals third baseman Chris Fornaci sent a towering drive to deep centerfield off Sonoma Stompers reliever Jacob Cox. The ball fell just a few feet short of a game-tying home run as Marcus Bradley caught the ball up against the fence to preserve the Stompers’ 5-4 win at Wilson Park.
With Vallejo’s loss and San Rafael defeating Pittsburg 6-4 on Tuesday, the Admirals fell into second place as the Pacifics now lead by half a game in the Pacific Association standings.
The Stomper bullpen was stellar as Vijay Patel and Cox combined to retire the last 15 Admirals batters of the game in the first meeting between the two clubs since Vallejo defeated the Stompers in last season’s championship game. Patel got the win, while Cox earned the save.
“I’ve loved our bullpen all year long,” first-year Stompers manager and former San Rafael Pacifics player Zack Pace said. “Patel has been doing a great job for us and I didn’t want him out there so long today, but he was looking so good out there we just kept riding him. The bullpen is one of our strong points and I have a lot of confidence in them and they put up a lot of zeroes today.”
Tied 4-4 in the top of the ninth, Sonoma (10-7) scored the eventual winning run with one out when Bradley hit a high bouncing chopper that found the hole in right field for a single that scored Rayson Romero, who had singled earlier in the inning and stolen second base. Romero, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, finished the game with three hits.
“He grinds out at bats for us all the time,” Pace said of Romero. “He doesn’t have a lot of power but he finds a way to get on base with a lot of hits and walks. He also had a big stolen base for us in the last inning. He does a lot of the small things the right way.”
The Stompers took an early lead by scoring two runs in the top of the first off Vallejo starter Frank Valentino. Sonoma had back-to-back walks by Bradley and Daniel Comstock and then an RBI double by Daniel Baptista that fell just inside the left field line and plated the Stompers first run. Sonoma added another run in the inning on an RBI groundout by Kenny Meimerstorf.
The Admirals (10-6) wasted little time coming back as Vallejo first baseman Graylin Derke hit a three-run homer to right off Sonoma starter Juan Espinosa with one out that made the score 3-2. David Kiriakos and Nick Akins had both walked earlier in the inning. It was Derke’s fourth home run of the season as he is now batting a team-high .392 for the year.
“I was looking for an offspeed pitch up and that’s what I got,” Derke said. “I just tried to put a good swing on it.”
Vallejo added another run in the fourth inning on an RBI single by Fornaci to drive home Brandon Fisher, who was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning.
Unfortunately for the Admirals, their offense went as silent as a library during finals week the rest of the game. Vallejo finished the contest with just five hits and none after the fifth inning.
“To be honest, we just didn’t put the ball in play,” Admirals manager P.J. Phillips said. “We didn’t make their defense work. We struck out too much.”
The Stompers cut the lead back to one run at 4-3 when Bradley singled, stole second and then scored on a throwing error by Admirals’ shortstop, Kiriakos.
An inning later in the sixth, Sonoma tied the game up 4-4 when Rob DeAngelis had a two-out RBI single to left that drove home Meimerstorf.
The run ended up driving Valentino from the game, as he threw six innings and gave up three earned runs and seven hits while striking out seven batters.
The Vallejo bullpen pitched well in the seventh and eighth innings as Brett Schneider pitched a perfect seventh and Tim Holmes threw a scoreless eighth in his first game back as an Admiral. Sonoma finally took the lead in the ninth off Benicia High graduate Peter Reyes.
Although the game was the first between the two teams since Vallejo beat Sonoma in the championship to win the 2017 title, Phillips said it held no extra special meaning and that it was tough to gauge where his team was at, even against a very good Stompers team.
“Nah, playing these two-game series you don’t get to see a team too much,” Phillips. “It’s just another game, but it’s a long season. We will find it, we will get it right.”