Portland 4 @ Tucson 7
In what very well might be a preview of the 2007 pennant race, Edgar Gonzalez defeated Tim Stauffer. Both Gonzalez and Stauffer have spent time at the big league level this year, and both are candidates to be brought up as rosters expand today, but Gonzalez looked much closer to Major League ready on Wednesday. Gonzalez, who moved to 3-1 with an ERA of 3.00 in the month of August, went 7.1 innings, scattering 11 hits and allowing just three earned runs. Gonzalez was cruising up until the eighth inning, when the Portland bats finally started to figure him out.
After getting the first out of the inning, Portland strung together three straight hits, scoring one and leaving another in scoring position. Chip Hale had seen enough, and handed the ball to recently demoted reliever Greg Aquino. Aquino allowed a single to the first hitter he faced, allowing another run to score, and then two batters later an error on shortstop Sergio Santos allowed the second of his inherited runners to cross the plate. He would get the next hitter to end the inning, and allow a single in the ninth, but finish strong and get Gonzalez the victory.
The win was Gonzalez's fifth in his last six decisions with Tucson, and it was the third time in his last five starts he had gone at least seven innings. It was Aquino's third appearance since being set down, and the first time he allowed a hit, he has not been charged with an earned run.
The bats were hot, in particular those of three players making their case for a 40 man roster callup. Second baseman Andy Green was 2-5 with a run scored, right fielder Josh Kroeger had two hits for the third straight game, scoring twice and driving in one, and as usual the center piece of the offense was Carlos Quentin. Once again playing center field Quentin was 3-5 on the day, with a double, a RBI and two runs scored. Of late it seems the tide has turned against Quentin getting a call up, since he is not already on the 40 man roster and the thus the Diamondbacks may not want to 'waste' a trip to the bigs on a September call, but after hitting .333 with 12 extra base hits in August, his numbers, and the potential benefit he might have on a big league club in a pennant race, are becoming hard to ignore.
Huntsville 5 @ Tennessee 4 in Seven Innings
The Southern League is just one of the many organizations decimated by Hurricane Katrina, with both Mobile and Mississippi likely playing the rest of their season on the road. Tennessee's game Tuesday was cancelled due to the inclement weather, but today under sunny skies the two clubs played a double header, with the Huntsville taking the opener.
Adam Bass started for the Smokies, having won his last three decisions, but he wasn't sharp, allowing eight hits and five earned runs in six innings, and taking the loss. Anthony Gwynn got things started right away for Huntsville, hitting a solo home run to lead off the game. That set the tone, and a second solo shot in the next inning would continue to put the pressure on Bass, but it would be a series of singles that would do the damage in the third. After getting Gwynn on strikes to start the inning, Huntsville would get two straight singles, followed by a walk and another single, plating one run. After getting his second strikeout of the inning Bass appeared on the verge of getting out of the inning allowing only one run but Jeff Winchester would follow with a two out, two RBI single that would give Huntsville a 5-2 lead.
Since minor league double headers are seven inning games, getting an early lead is key, and it put the pressure on the Smokies' bats. After spotting Huntsville to a 2-0 lead the Smokies were able to tie the game in the second on Stephen Drew's third Double-A homer of the season. Drew, who's batting average had briefly fallen below the Mendoza Line, has come back and started showing signs of life. Though the average is still just .205, after Game One of the double header he had hit in four of his last six, including two homers in his last four games.
Like Drew, Dan Uggla will be heading to the Arizona Fall League, and he tried to help the Smokies answer back in the bottom of the third. Uggla hit his 21st homer of the year in that frame, a solo shot that brought the Smokies back to within two. The bats would be silence until the bottom of the seventh, when Marland Williams led the inning off with a double, and came home on a pinch hit single by Jarred Ball. Ball would move to second on a Adam Haley ground out, but with the tying run in scoring position Uggla would hit a lazy fly ball to Gwynn in center, ending the game.
Huntsville 0 @ Tennessee 3
After the Smokies dropped game one it appeared lefty Clint Goocher took it personally. Goocher allowed just three hits and a walk in 6.1 innings, blanking Huntsville breaking a personal six game losing streak. It was the first time in Goocher's last 11 starts that he had gone as many as six innings, and he was impressive doing it. Only once did Huntsville truly threaten to score. In the third inning with one out Goocher allowed a single, and then after getting the second out of the inning Nelson Castro doubled, but when the runner at first tried to score he was gunned down on a perfect throw by center fielder Marland Williams.
In the seventh Casey Daigle came on with one out and nobody on base to record the final two outs of the inning.
This time it was the Smokies turn to strike first, as Jarred Ball led off with a walk, stole second, and then third, and scored on a Chris Carter ground out, putting Tennessee up one. In the sixth inning the Smokies would add two insurance runs. Goocher led off the inning with a double, his fourth of the year, followed by a Ball walk. Adam Haley attempted to sacrifice both men over, but Goocher was thrown out at third. Dan Uggla was next, and loaded the bases on a catcher's interference call. Once again it was Carter who came through with a sacrifice fly to left to score Ball, and then Stephen Drew singled up the middle to score Uggla.
For Carter, it was a classic example of producing for the team, rather than for his own numbers. Though he was officially 0-2 on the day, he grabbed two RBI, and never wasted an at bat. For Ball meanwhile, his day was also just as the Smokies would script it. Though officially he was 0-1, he walked twice, stole two bases and scored two runs, almost exactly what you would ask of a lead off hitter.
Inland Empire 10 @ Lancaster 2
Jon Castellanos struggled, and the defense struggled behind him, as Lancaster fell to the 66ers. Castellanos failed to pitch at least five innings for the first time since June 11th, allowing six runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings. Only four of those runs would be earned though, as a third inning error on center fielder Steve Garrabrants would allow two unearned runs to cross the plate. Castellanos' record fell to an impressive 9-3, but home runs remain a problem for the right hander. Wladimir Balentien hit a sixth inning, three run shot that put the game away for Inland Empire, and was the 24th homer Castellanos has allowed in just over 155 innings this season.
Reliever Alexander Cremidan continued to struggle, allowing three earned runs in his 1.2 innings, the third time in his last seven outings he's allowed at least three earned.
The offense struggled to get the 'big hit' all day, as they were blanked for the first eight innings. Shortstop Danny Richar finally broke through in the bottom of the ninth inning, stroking a lead off home run, his 18th on the year and 8th in the month of August. The JetHawks would add another later in the inning first baseman Edgar Varela (2-4) slapped his second double of the day to center, and came home when right fielder Jay Garthwaite singled for his only hit Wednesday. Just making contact was a challenge for the JetHawks, as the team combined to strikeout 14 times on the afternoon.
Still, it was a day of celebration, as the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes loss clinched a playoff birth for Lancaster. The JetHawks are now guaranteed at least a wild card spot, though with a weekend series approaching against the High Desert Mavericks, who lead the JetHawks by 3.5 games in the South Division, they could still advance as the division winner.
South Bend 8 @ West Michigan 4
Steven Jackson continues to ride a winning steak, running it to four straight decisions, as the Silverhawks topped the Whitecaps Wednesday. Jackson allowed four hits and three walks in five innings, giving up just two earned runs. The bullpen then came on and pitched well enough to hold the victory for Jackson. Ryan Coffin was first up, pitching one scoreless inning despite a walk and a hit, then came lefty Todd Stein, who allowed two hits and a run before being lifted after getting just one out in favor of Josh Perrault. Perrault worked 1.2 innings, also allowing one run, before turning the game over to lefty Hipolito Guerrero, who finished the game out with a scoreless ninth inning.
It was the bats that would carry the Silverhawks this night. Every position player got at least one hit, with the bottom of the order producing well. Center fielder Brandon Simon collected his first four hit game of the season with the Silverhawks out of the number nine spot in the order, but six, seven, and eight did the major damage. Just a day after having his 13 game hit streak snapped, catcher Wilkin Castillo was 3-4 with a walk, a solo homer, and three runs scored, while DH Orlando Mercado had a pair of double, and a pair of RBI in his five trips to the plate. Shortstop Mark Reynolds had only one hit in his five trips to the plate, but it was a big one. His third inning double plated two runs and gave him hits in eight of his last nine games.
Spokane 3 @ Yakima 1
Starter Adam Howard had his shortest outing since joining the Bears, lasting only two innings, and despite solid work from the Yakima bullpen, the bats never came alive as the Bears dropped one to Spokane Wednesday. After Howard left the game Kyler Newby came on and was brilliant, allowing two hits, a walk and no runs in his three innings while striking out four. The stint lowered Newby's ERA to a sparkling 2.46 and his opponent's batting average to a miniscule .186. Next out of the pen was lefty Craig Pfautz, who took the loss for the second time in his last three appearances. Pfautz allowed two hits, a walk and two earned runs in his 1.2 innings pitched, and is now 0-4 in August. Matt Fowles came on after Pfautz and struggled, allowing his one inherited runner to score (it was charged to Pfautz) and giving up three hits and three walks, but pitching around them to get through his 1.1 innings unscathed. Jason Urquidez came on to finish things out with a scoreless, but exciting ninth inning that featured a strikeout/wild pitch and an error on Urquidez that put two men on, though neither would score.
The offense just couldn't get going for the Bears, as only center fielder Leyson Septimo managed more than one hit, going 3-4 and scoring the lone Yakima run in the fifth when left fielder Juan Olivares tripled him home. Jo Jo Batten, who is in just his fourth game with the Bears after spending two months in Rookie League Missoula, was 1-4 with a double, but made a crucial error that allowed a run to score.
Missoula 4 @ Billings 5
It was a tough day for starter Anthony Cupps, who lasted four innings and gave up three runs, taking the loss, but a positive one for pitcher Jason Neighborgall. After Cupps checked out Neighborgall, who has allowed 12 earned runs in his last 3.1 innings pitched (four appearances), pitched two scoreless frames, and while he did walk three of the 10 hitters he faced, he struck out three as well. The third round pick out of Georgia Tech has now walked 40 batters in 19.1 innings this season.
Center fielder Travis Tully continued his good work out of the lead off spot, going 3-5 with a run scored, he's now hit in 16 of his last 17 games. He would be the only member of the Osprey to collect more than one hit on the day, with the big blast coming off the bat of right fielder Will Crouch, who's eighth inning two run home run brought the Osprey back to within one run, but they would get no closer.