By Gabe Schapiro
San Rafael, CA – The Vallejo Admirals (12-21) came from behind for the second straight night, winning the rubber match against San Rafael Pacifics (17-15), 8-7, Thursday night, at Albert Park.
The contest remained a seesaw battle for much of the evening, as the two rivals battled through the rain. The Pacifics appeared to be on their way to a victory after putting up a five spot in the sixth inning, but the Admirals once again found some ninth inning magic, scoring twice to pull ahead and eventually win it. For the second time in as many nights, PJ Phillips provided the game-tying hit, with Josh Wong contributing the game winner. Reliever Derrick Mitchell earned the win, and Bryan Escanio closed it out for the save.
Both squads had their aces on the mound: David Dinelli for the Admirals, and Patrick Conroy for the Pacifics. Both hurlers would end up with very similar nights, battling through base runners and a couple of sloppy plays, but neither would factor into the decision.
The two teams traded runs in the first and fourth innings, making it a 2-2 game heading into the fifth.
Vallejo put up the games first crooked number, with Aaron Brill setting the table after reaching on an error to lead it off. Gadiel Baez bunted him over to second base, and then Jaylen Harris singled him home. That brought up Glenn Walker, who sent the second pitch he saw into the left-center field gap. Harris scored easily, and the speedy Walker came charging around to third for a triple. On the play, the throw from center fielder Zach Pace went way off line, allowing Walker to advance and slide in to home, handing the Admirals a 5-2 lead.
As had been happening all game, however, the momentum swung back to San Rafael in the very next inning.
After a quick out number one, Danny Gonzalez singled, and Adrian Martinez hit a two-run shot to bring the Pacifics to within one run. David Kiriakos then doubled, and eventually came around to score the tying run on a throwing error by Dinelli. After walking Sergio Miranda, Vallejo went to their bullpen.
“I think it was a little rust, because he had a couple of extra days of rest,” said manager Garry Templeton on his starter. “He started to tighten up a little bit in those later innings, so that took a little velocity off of his pitches and he made a couple of mistakes and got touched up a little bit. But the intensity and the fire that he brings, and the experience he has of not giving in and continuing to battle no matter what, are things that he always brings to the table.”
Reliever Josh Evans got the call to face the dangerous Matt Chavez. Chavez jumped at the first pitch he saw, and sent it over the center field wall for the second two-run dinger of the inning, to give San Rafael their first lead, at 7-5.
Despite having lost the lead three times, the Admirals never stopped fighting
They got one back in the seventh to make it a one-run game. Harris led off the inning with a double, and two batters later scored on a single from Phillips.
After a scoreless eighth, the contest went to the ninth, with the Pacifics trying to avoid a replay of the previous night. Vallejo had other plans.
Like he did in the seventh, it was Harris who got the ball rolling, beating out a high chopper for an infield single. After Walker bunted him over the second, it once again set the table for Phillips with a runner in scoring position.
“I was really just focused on hitting one pitch,” said Phillips. “The first pitch he threw was a cutter away, so I just sat dead-red and he gave me my pitch and I hit it.”
The ball sailed high and deep towards the left-center field gap, and for a moment looked as if it might make it over the fence. It came just short, banging off of the wall. Harris scored easily to tie the game at 7-7, and Phillips, who was hustling out of the box, ended up at third with a triple.
“He’s a professional hitter,” said Templeton. “He’s one of the best hitters in this league, and he could probably be one of the best hitters in any league. You know you’re going to get a competitive at bat every time he steps to the plate. If you make a mistake he’s going to make you pay for it.”
With the go-ahead run at third with one out, Wong stepped to the plate, one night after being hit by a pitch to force in what would ultimately be the game winner.
This time around, it was Wong hitting the baseball, rather than the other way around. He got around on one, sending it into right field for a single.
“I knew he was going to come with a fastball because he’s a hard thrower,” explained Wong, “so he was going to challenge me. I swung through the first one, and he was just bringing the heat, so I just had to catch up with it and get my foot down early. Luckily enough I got it in over the second baseman’s head and it dropped in, and PJ scored.”
“I’ve been telling him, it’s not always the big line drives or the doubles, sometimes it’s a jam shot like Luis Gonzalez winning the World Series,” said Templeton with a laugh. “Sometimes it’s a seeing-eye single, it’s just about getting that confidence and getting the job done, whatever it takes. And getting the job done is a huge boost of confidence for him and the team.”
In the bottom of the ninth, Escanio was called on to hold the 8-7 lead for the Admirals. San Rafael had the heart of their order due up, but Escanio made quick work of them, retiring the side in order on 10 pitches to seal another comeback win.
“It’s just great for the team right now, this was exactly what we needed,” said Wong after the big win. “Yeah sure the blowouts can be good, but it’s the tough games, the close games, that are really going to define us throughout the season.”
“We’re just trying to battle right now,” added Phillips. “We’ve been in a little funk, but everything is coming together. Hitting, pitching, defense, everybody is coming together right now and it’s a good feeling.”
The Admirals will be back at it tonight as they travel to Sonoma to begin a three game series against the Stompers. The action gets underway at 6:00 PM, as Vallejo sends Demetrius Banks to the mound.