By Gabe Schapiro
Vallejo, CA – It might have been sloppy at times, but the Vallejo Admirals (7-15) simply found a way on Tuesday night, coming from behind to topple the Pittsburg Diamonds (10-12), 6-5, at Wilson Park.
Admirals starter Kenny McDowall was making his second start with the club this season, after an impressive showing last week that saw him strike out 11 in six innings. Tonight, however, he struggled with his command early and often. He would eventually walk six, and throw two wild pitches, in four innings of work.
“He didn’t have his command tonight,” said manager Garry Templeton II. “His stuff had movement, he just couldn’t keep that movement over the plate. That was his downfall tonight, he just didn’t have control of all of his pitches.”
In what would prove to be a theme of the night, however, his teammates picked him up.
Relievers Derrick Mitchell and Steve Thompson took over, combining to toss a near perfect final five frames, allowing just one base runner, and striking out seven. Meanwhile, Vallejo’s offense kept chipping away, with the winning blow coming from shortstop Gadiel Baez, in his first game back from injury.
Despite his wildness, McDowall managed to keep the game scoreless heading into the third, before the walks started coming back to bite him.
Over the next two innings, the Diamonds would break out with five runs, thanks to four hits, four walks, a wild pitch, and a pass ball.
That would be the end of McDowall’s night, as Templeton called on his one lefty, Mitchell, to restore order.
And restore order he did. Mitchell pounded the strike zone right out of the gate, striking out the side in his first inning of work, to set the tone and swing the momentum back in the Admirals favor.
“Whenever we’re down and I get into the game, I just focus on trying to throw up zeros so that hopefully we can get back in it,” said Mitchell. “It’s about attacking the hitters and making them get themselves out.”
“He did an excellent job,” added Templeton. “Coming in and picking us up, and keeping the runs right where they were. He was just challenging them and throwing strikes, and he was able to be successful tonight.”
With the Berkley High product silencing the Pittsburg offense, the Admirals offense got to work.
After scratching across their first run in the bottom of the fourth on a wild pitch, Vallejo kept their foot on the gas pedal in the fifth.
Tyger Pederson and Lydell Moseby got the rally started with back-to-back singles. Baez executed a perfect bunt, moving both runners over. Tim Williams knocked in Pederson with a ground out up the middle, and Moseby followed shortly after on a wild pitch. With two outs, PJ Phillips walked, and advanced all the way over to third on yet another wild pitch and an errant throw by the catcher. Aaron Brill then sent a liner the other way for a single, scoring Phillips and cutting the Admirals deficit to 5-4.
In the bottom half of the seventh, Vallejo capitalized on Diamonds mistakes to plate the tying run. Williams reached on an error, stole second, advanced to third on a pass ball, and scored on another wild pitch.
Incredibly, five of the contests 11 runs scored via a wild pitch or pass ball.
“That just goes to show you how important catching is,” said Templeton. “That’s why catchers don’t necessarily always have to be able to hit. If they’re defensively strong it can make or break a game.”
Thankfully for Vallejo, they got all of that out of their system early.
Mitchell tossed a perfect sixth and seventh, and then handed things off to Thompson in the eighth, who picked up right where he left off. A one-two-three inning handed things right back to the charging Admirals bats.
Tyler Nordgren walked to lead off the inning. Pederson tried to bunt him over, but pushed it a little too hard, allowing Rich Mejia to get a force out at second base. Once again, however, Pittsburg was bitten by miscues behind the plate, and the Admirals capitalized and picked each other up.
Pederson advanced to second on a pass ball, and then over to third on a dropped third strike to Moseby. Baez stepped to the plate, and on a two-two count, shot one through the infield for an RBI single, scoring to go-ahead run.
“We’re playing as a team and we’re picking each other up,” said Templeton. “There wasn’t a point in that inning where anyone got down. It was just about the next guy getting it done, and that’s always great to see.”
Templeton stuck with Thompson to finish it off in the ninth. After securing two quick outs, Scott David singled, bringing the dangerous Mike Taylor to the plate. On the fifth pitch of the at bat, Taylor skied one to deep center field as the Admirals briefly held their collective breathes, but Chad Bunting sprinted back and hauled in the final out just in front of the wall.
“No man,” Mitchell said with a laugh after being asked about whether he thought it was leaving the park, “I had all the faith in the world that he was going to go get that. That ball wasn’t going anywhere.”
The Admirals will be back at it tonight for the second game of this three game set against the Diamonds. The action gets underway at 7:00 PM, with Josh Evans on the mound getting the spot-start.