August 30, 2012 - Pacific Coast League (PCL) - Albuquerque Isotopes
The Albuquerque Isotopes (77-63) picked a most inopportune time for their first series sweep, as the Oklahoma City RedHawks (75-64) squeaked out a 3-1 win Thursday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark to finish off a four-game sweep of the "Â˜Topes and send Albuquerque to its season-high fifth straight loss. The Isotopes' lead in the PCL's American Southern Division is now just 1.5 games with four crucial games at Isotopes Park remaining.
Unlike the previous two games, this contest was a pitcher's duel, with "Â˜Topes starter Fernando Nieve and RedHawks lefty Brett Oberholtzer each battling into the eighth.
Albuquerque struck first on Oberholtzer in the top of the fourth when Josh Fields roped a two-out single to center and promptly swiped second base. With a man in scoring position, Tim Federowicz lined a single into center, plating Fields and putting the "Â˜Topes on top 1-0.
Meanwhile, Nieve was delivering a gem, pitching five scoreless innings while setting down 11 consecutive RedHawks hitters until the streak was broken with a one-out double by Brad Snyder in the sixth. After a wild pitch moved Snyder to third, Brian Bixler laced a base hit up the middle, chasing home the runner and knotting the contest at 1-1.
It remained tied until the eighth, when the "Â˜Hawks surged ahead thanks in part to a costly "Â˜Topes miscue. After Landon Powell drew a walk to start the bottom of the eighth and was immediately replaced by pinch-runner Rudy Owens, pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt down in front of the plate. Like a cat, the catcher Federowicz pounced on the ball, but his throw sailed into right field, allowing Owens to scamper into third while Shuck motored into second. Snyder then finished off Nieve's night with a single to right, plating both runners and giving Oklahoma City a 3-1 edge.
Nieve (7-9), took the tough-luck loss and certainly deserved a better fate after toiling 7.0-plus innings in which he allowed three runs, two earned, on seven hits while walking one and striking out a season-high nine.
Down to their final at-bat, the Isotopes tried to mount a comeback when Fields led off the top of the ninth with a single, but RedHawks closer Jose Valdez (21) fanned the next three batters he faced to seal his 21st save and a 3-1 Oklahoma City win.
Albuquerque will now head home tomorrow for a crucial, regular-season-ending four-game series against the first-place Omaha Storm Chasers, Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Right-hander Stephen Fife (10-7, 4.84) will look to right the ship for the "Â˜Topes against Chasers southpaw Chris Dwyer (3-4, 6.97) in a 7:05 PM start from Isotopes Park.
The first-place Isotopes are back home tomorrow for the last four game series of the 2012 regular season. In addition to a pivotal series against the Omaha Storm Chasers, the series includes Fan Appreciation Weekend, featuring three straight fireworks extravaganzas from Friday through Sunday. As if that weren't enough, the "Â˜Topes will also hold a special "Salute to Orbit" on Friday and give away grab bags full of awesome Isotopes giveaways on Saturday and Sunday! Tickets for any Isotopes game may be purchased at the Isotopes Park Box Office, at Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, or on-line at www.abqisotopes.com or www.ticketmaster.com.