By Thomas Gase
Moments before the game began between the Vallejo Admirals and Pittsburg Diamonds on Saturday, Admirals starting pitcher Kida De La Cruz ran to the mound and took a little short leap over the third base line, trying to avoid the white chalk at all costs.
Most baseball players are a little superstitious and it seemed that De La Cruz was no exception. Also, like actor Kevin Costner says in the film “Bull Durham” De La Cruz knows that you don’t, ahem, (mess) with a winning streak.
The Admirals (22-31, 7-7 in second half) kept their winning streak alive, running it to six games as Vallejo had clutch hitting in the late innings to defeat Pittsburg 8-6 at Wilson Park.
The six-game winning streak is the second best in the history of the franchise as Vallejo won seven games in a row in 2014 from June 21 through June 28 of that year.
Asked if anyone on the team wasn’t changing anything like their lucky socks or shirt, or something else during the streak, outfielder Darian Sandford just laughed.
“No, nothing like that. We’re just having fun every day,” Sandford said. “I think the main difference is just that we expect to win now. Every game, we expect to win. That’s been our biggest change.”
First baseman Aaron Brill, who had two hits, agreed with Sandford.
“If someone is doing something like that (not changing their socks or shirt) then they’re doing a good job of keeping it to themselves,” Brill said, with a chuckle. “Which is probably good for something like that.”
The Admirals wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as Joseph Hicks flared a double just down the right field line in the bottom of the first to drive home Sandford and make it 1-0. Sandford, who had singled earlier in the inning, stole two bases in the frame to put himself in scoring position.
The Diamonds (25-28) tied up the game in the third and then took the lead in the fifth when Andrew Rubalcava led off with a walk and then went to third after back-to-back singles by John Contreras and Thomas Shull. With one out Rubalcava scored to make it 2-1 when Jordan Yallen was hit by the pitch.
The Admirals tied the score in the bottom of the fifth thanks to Sandford, who singled with two outs, stole two bases, and then scored on a bloop single by Tim Williams that made it 2-2.
“I’ve basically been trying to stay ahead in counts and look for fastballs up 2-0,” Sandford said. “Just try to put a good swing on it and not put the ball in the air. I’m much better when I hit the ball on the ground.”
Sandford finished with four stolen bases to push his league-high total to 43.
“He was a lefty tonight so basically if he flinched I was going,” Sandford said. “Stealing third base I was also able to get some good reads and I knew he was about 1.5, 1.6 to the plate so I had a good chance.”
De La Cruz pitched well the first five innings of the game and showed better control than some of his previous outings. However, the big righty had control problems in the sixth as he walked three batters in a row, including one to Nick Oddo with the bases loaded to make it 3-2 Diamonds. De La Cruz pitched six innings, gave up two earned runs, walked five and gave up six hits.
Still, De La Cruz was able to pick up the win because the Admirals showed no quit. They came right back in the bottom of the sixth to score three runs thanks to a one-out, two-run triple by Aaron Brill to make it 4-3 and then a two-out bloop single to right by Gadiel Baez that plated Brill to make it 5-3.
“Lately I’m trying to not think that much at the plate,” Brill said. “Last few games I’ve been trying to keep it nice and easy and simple and it’s been working. On the triple I hit I wasn’t sure if it was gone but I knew it was deep enough for a sacrifice fly.”
The Admirals knocked on two more runs to build a bigger lead in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs Hicks and Bautista singled. Pittsburg brought in a reliever, Joe Mello, and Lydell Moseby greeted him with a two-run double to right to make it 7-3.
The game got a lot more interesting in the top of the eighth as reliever Joe Watson struggled by giving up three runs.
The Admirals got some insurance in the bottom of the eighth when they once again scored with two outs thanks to Sandford, who collected his third hit of the game to drive home Brill and make it 8-6.
In the ninth inning Luis Ferreras was able to retire the side for the save.