By Gabe Schapiro
Pittsburg, CA – The Vallejo Admirals (10-16) forced extra innings with a late comeback, but fell in the 10th against the Pittsburg Diamonds (9-17), 4-3, Wednesday night at City Park Field.
A battle between a pair of aces lived up to the hype. David Dinelli and Dennis Neal were fantastic, despite neither factoring into the final decision. The contest remained scoreless through five innings, before both sides finally scratched across runs against the hurlers late. The pitchers duel continued into the bullpens, with an RBI single from Rich Mejia in the bottom of the 10th ultimately providing the final blow, sending the Diamonds home winners.
Pittsburg was the first to break through the scoreless tie.
In the sixth inning, Brandon Williams led off with a walk. On a hit and run, he advanced all the way over to third when a ground ball off of the bat of Scott David went to Michael Cerda, leaving the third base bag open. Then, with the infield drawn in, Nick Oddo slapped one that just got past a diving Josh Wong and Glenn Walker for an RBI single, handing Pittsburg the 1-0 advantage.
In the very next half inning, however, Vallejo did away with the zero on their side of the scoreboard as well.
Once again, it was a lead off walk that got the ball rolling, with Cerda earning the free pass. Cerda stole second, but then was caught too far off of the bag on a ground ball that Jordan Hinshaw hit back to the pitcher. After a brief run down, Cerda was eventually tagged out, but it allowed Hinshaw to get all the way to second base on the play. Hinshaw stole third base on a ball in the dirt, and then scored with some heads up and aggressive base running.
Josh Wong hit a ground ball to the third baseman Mejia, freezing Hinshaw initially. Mejia and Hinshaw briefly engaged in a stare down, with Hinshaw inching towards home plate, before Hinshaw bolted for home plate right as Mejia committed to the throw to first. The throw home from first baseman Joe Lewis sailed wide, and Hinshaw scored easily, tying the game up at 1-1.
After hitting a batter and walking another, the Diamonds went to the pen, pulling Neal after six-and-two-thirds of one run ball.
“It’s kind of baffling, he just throws a lot of strikes,” said manager Garry Templeton II on what makes Neal so effective. “Everything he throws is around the plate. Fastball, two-seamer, off-speed stuff, he throws a lot of strikes with everything, and it’s effective. He did the same thing with us last year, and he’s been doing the same thing against everybody this season. So whatever he’s doing out there it’s effective and it works.”
The Diamonds would make the tie very short-lived.
Dinelli went out for the seventh, but, like Neal, appeared to be at the end of his rope, and didn’t survive the inning. After the first three hitters reached on a single, error by the shortstop Danny Martinez, and a walk, Templeton went to his bullpen, ending Dinelli’s night.
“He was able to command the zone and mix up his pitches well,” said Templeton. “He went after hitters. He threw well and gave us a chance to win the game.”
It would take two more pitchers to get out of the inning, but before they did, Pittsburg had plated two runs with a sacrifice fly and a ground out, taking a 3-1 lead.
After a quiet eighth inning, the game moved to the ninth with the Admirals needing two runs to tie it.
A walk to Hinshaw and Tyler Nordgren, and a pair of strikeouts, brought Vallejo down to their final out, with the tying run at first base for pinch hitter Brad Young. The aggressive Young swung at the first pitch he saw, and sent a deep fly ball down the left field line. Williams sprinted for it, but took a bad route and seemed to overrun it, allowing the ball to fall fair for an error. Both Hinshaw and Nordgren came around to score, tying the game up at 3-3.
Josh Evans, who had come in from the bullpen in the eighth, remained on the mound into the 10th inning. He had pitched beautifully over his first two frames of work, retiring all six hitters he faced, striking out three of them.
With the game being in extras, and bullpen arms needing to be extended, he went out for a third inning, but ran into trouble.
He walked Williams to begin the 10th, who advanced into scoring position on a passed ball. Two batters later, on the fourth pitch of the at bat, Mejia slapped the ball the other way for a single, scoring Williams from second and winning the game for the Diamonds.
“We had missed opportunities and mental mistakes that happened throughout the game that could’ve helped sway it in our favor,” said Templeton reflecting on the loss after the game. “It’s just part of the learning process for some of these young guys, that baseball is more than just the physical, being able to catch, throw, and hit. It’s about being able to think the game, and mentally be prepared, being in the right positions at the right times, and making the right decisions at the right times.”
The Admirals will now look to win the series in tonight’s rubber match with Nick Flory on the mound. The action gets underway at 7:00 PM.