By Gabe Schapiro
Vallejo, CA – The Vallejo Admirals (13-26, 4-3) and the Pittsburg Diamonds (18-20, 3-4) played their fourth straight game, and four the fourth straight night the outcome was decided by two runs or fewer. On Friday night, the Admirals secured their third win in that span, toppling the Diamonds, 5-3, at Wilson Park.
Vallejo starter Demetrius Banks didn’t factor into the decision, but threw seven strong innings, putting the Admirals in a good position to win. It won’t show up on a box score, but behind him, Vallejo played what was probably their best defensive game of the season. They didn’t commit a single error, and added numerous diving catches, over the shoulder grabs, and nifty picks on hard hit grounders worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10.
Against Pittsburg’s James Trebus, Vallejo had runners on base in seemingly every inning, but couldn’t find the big hit they needed to put the Diamonds away early. The Admirals eventually found a way, however, with Glenn Walker driving in the winning run on a perfectly executed squeeze play during a two-run eighth.
The contest remained scoreless through three innings, before both starters ran into trouble in the middle innings, with Pittsburg striking first.
A Rich Mejia RBI double, and Tim Battle two-run home run in the fourth and fifth innings respectively, gave the Diamonds a 3-0 lead.
Unfortunately for Pittsburg, that advantage wouldn’t last past the next half inning, and the home run would prove to be their last hit of the night.
Walker led off the bottom of the fifth with a single, and advanced all the way over to third when a Trebus pick off attempt in the dirt couldn’t be gloved by first baseman Mike Taylor. New centerfielder Chad Bunting then singled Walker home for their first run of the contest. A PJ Phillips walk, two groundouts, and a wild pitch later, and the game was all tied up at 3-3.
After giving up runs in consecutive innings, Banks tossed a scoreless sixth and seventh, while facing the minimum, before handing the ball off to the bullpen in the eighth
“He was doing a good job of mixing up his pitches,” said manager Garry Templeton. “He was throwing his breaking ball a little more. He has a couple of different two-seamers that he throws to go along with a hard four-seam, and he was using those as well so that they weren’t seeing the same fastball all the time.”
With Banks and the bullpen tossing up zeros, it was up the offense to capitalize on the base runners they were getting.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, they came through.
CJ Maldonado led off the inning with a walk, and was promptly bunted over to second by Tyler Nordgren. Gadiel Baez reached on an infield single, putting runners at the corners for Walker.
“Two innings before, Walker was in a similar situation,” recalled Templeton. “Usually the squeeze play is always on my mind, but for whatever reason it never crossed my mind. When we got back in the dugout coach [Mike] Samuels mentioned it, saying that he thought I was going to squeeze. So the next time that it came up, it was a no-brainer. I knew he could get it down, and we’d get that run.”
Sure enough, on the very first pitch Maldonado took off for home, and Walker placed the perfect bunt down the third base line, allowing Maldonado to score the go-ahead run without a play.
“As soon as I saw Gaddy get on base, in my mind I was already thinking about some kind of bunt to get the run in, that’s just my approach,” said Walker. “And I was blessed that I got it down and it got the winning run in.”
Bunting (the player) then continued his torrid start to his career as an Admiral, adding an insurance run by singling in Baez for his second hit and RBI of the night.
The recently signed outfielder has had two hits in each of his first four games with the club, good for a .500 average thus far.
“I’ve been in pro ball for a couple of years now, so you come into a new place trying not to allow the new atmosphere to affect you in anyway, and just play your game and come in and do what you’re supposed to do,” explained Bunting. “It always feels good being an impact player right away. I’m just glad that I was able to come in here and help the team win a series, and hopefully we can do the same thing tomorrow.”
Steve Thompson had pitched a perfect eighth to take home the win, and closer Bryan Escanio followed with a perfect ninth for his eighth save of the season.
“There’s a good energy,” said Walker after the win. “A lot of the new guys don’t know some of the struggles we’ve had, so they didn’t come in here with any bad energy. The guys that are still around are just picking up off of their good plays and positive vibes. So we’re all just making better plays now, and playing sound baseball.”
With the win, and a Sonoma Stompers loss, the Admirals, Stompers, and San Rafael Pacifics all move into a three-way tie for first place, with 4-3 records.
Vallejo will look to keep their good momentum going, as they play game two of this three game set with Pittsburg, tonight at 5:00 PM.