By Matt O’Donnell
Vallejo Admirals right fielder Tim Williams emerged from the visiting clubhouse wearing a San Francisco Giants’ hat.
Even though he’s not a pitcher and not left-handed, Williams said he was inspired after listening to former Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky before the game. The ex-big leaguer spoke in front of home plate about his journey from the big leagues to battling cancer and eventually having his left arm and shoulder amputated.
Williams ignited the Admirals’ rally late with a two-run homer in the seventh, but Pacifics designated hitter Garrett Gemgnani crushed the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth to help his team to a wild 9-8 win on Wednesday at Albert Park.
San Rafael (33-23, 12-5) has taken the first two games of the Pacific Association series. Vallejo (23-33, 8-9) has lost back-to-back games after winning a season-high seven in a row.
“The fact that he’s been through so much and still continues to keep a positive attitude in baseball, that stuff means a lot to me,” Williams said about Dravecky. “I started playing baseball my junior year of high school and I started learning a lot about the mental side of the game. When (Dravecky) was talking about that, it was heartwarming to know that baseball is more about just about the physical part of the game.”
The Admirals led 5-0 at one point as they took advantage of San Rafael errors in the first and second innings. Gadiel Baez poked a double to left to open the game and scored when Darian Sandford’s ground ball went between the legs of second baseman Chase Tucker.
Vallejo scored three times in the second as Gerald Bautista led off the inning with a bad-hop infield single that bounced off the jaw of third baseman Jake Taylor. Lydell Moseby walked and Taylor then threw away Cyle Figueroa’s bunt, allowing Bautista to score. Alian Silva’s ground ball scored Moseby and Figueroa scored on Sandford’s RBI single.
Vallejo went up 5-0 in the third when Bautista knocked in Joe Hicks with an RBI single.
Early, it looked like Vallejo’s left-handed starter Brent Adheen might have been the early recipient of Dravecky’s motivation speech.
Adheen faced the minimum amount of batters through the first three innings but ran into trouble in the fourth as he hit Zack Pace and walked Tucker to set the stage for Taylor’s no-doubt, three-run homer over the left-field wall. San Rafael added two more in the inning and batted around to tie the game 5-5.
Surprisingly, the Admirals sent Adheen out to start the fifth and it did not go well. Tucker singled sharply to left and Taylor unloaded again, this time just past the outstretched glove of Hicks, the left fielder, to give San Rafael a 7-5 lead.
Taylor has 12 homers and a league-leading 52 RBIs on the season. Six of his homers have come against Vallejo pitchers.
The Pacifics eventually took an 8-5 lead with one in the sixth against reliever Joe Watson, but the Admirals’ bullpen was sharp in the seventh and eighth.
Vallejo closed to 8-7 in the seventh but not without some controversy. Player-manager P.J. Phillips crushed a Julian Esquibel offering to left field. The ball appeared to hit off the roof of a shed just beyond the fence but left fielder Johnny Bekakis played the ball like it hit off the wall. The base umpire ruled double, not home run, bringing third base coach Kenneth Owen out to argue. Owen was eventually ejected.
The play ended up not affecting the outcome of the inning as Williams unloaded for a two-run homer two batters later.
“To me, personally I would rather take the guy on base,” Williams said. “It gives you a little bit more oomph to get that guy to the next base or get the guy home.”
The Admirals eventually tied the game 8-8 in the eighth when Moseby walked against Esquibel, moved to second on Figueroa’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Silva’s single up the middle.
“I feel like we always have the momentum … always, always always,” Williams said. “No matter if we are down or we’re up, our job is to come out here and work our ass off. We don’t ever feel like that momentum ever swings.”
Admirals reliever Wendall Floranus pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, retiring Tucker, Taylor and Maikel Jova, but he surrendered the game-winning homer to Gemgnani, his first of the season. Gemgnani was 0-for-5 before the hit.
Notes: Sandford stole his league-leading 46th and 47th bases in the game. … Williams and Hicks both made spectacular catches in the first and seventh innings, respectively. David Dinelli is expected to start the final game of the series on Thursday. … On Friday at Albert Park, the two teams will play a timed game of 2 hours, 30 minutes and do so again at 1:05 p.m. at Wilson Park on Sunday.