Aviators Edge Isotopes 1-0 in 10-Inning Thriller
Through the first 26 games in the history of Las Vegas Ballpark, the Aviators and their Pacific Coast League opponents treated fans to one high-scoring slugfest after another. In the 27th game Thursday night, a sellout crowd of 10,452 not only witnessed a complete flip of the script, they almost witnessed history.
After the Aviators and Albuquerque Isotopes combined for 23 runs and 49 hits in the first two games of their four-game series, starting pitchers Paul Blackburn and Chi Chi González put on a pitching clinic for the ages, tossing dual no-hitters through the first 6 1/2 innings. And when Blackburn and González departed for Las Vegas and Albuquerque, respectively, their bullpens continued that clinic - at least until the bottom of the 10th inning.
That's when Aviators third baseman Sheldon Neuse broke a scoreless tie with a one-out single to center field that scored Seth Brown from second base to give the Aviators (27-21) a walk-off 1-0 victory. The win was Las Vegas' third in a row - all in this series against Albuquerque (23-26) - and it was arguably the most thrilling of the 2019 season.
The most unexpected part? It was the pitchers who provided the thrills, particularly Blackburn and González, who were thoroughly dominant. To wit: Blackburn limited the Isotopes to two baserunners - a hit batter in the second and a walk in the fourth - and faced just one batter over the minimum until Albuquerque shortstop Garrett Hampson led off the seventh inning with a solid single to center.
While González was a little more erratic than Blackburn, allowing four walks through six innings, he held the Aviators without a hit until second baseman Corban Joseph pulled a double down the right field line with two outs in the seventh inning.
To fully grasp just how much Blackburn and González matched each other pitch for pitch, one need only check the stat sheet: Both went seven innings, both allowed one hit, and both threw 94 pitches. While Blackburn walked two and struck out seven, González - who entered the game with a 6.80 ERA - walked four and fanned five.
Remarkably, the four relief pitchers who took the mound were nearly as good as the starters. Aviators right-handers Miguel Romero and J.B. Wendelken (2-1) combined to allow one hit apiece in three innings, while Albuquerque righties DJ Johnson and Jesus Tinoco (3-1) yielded a total of one hit in 2 1/3 innings - but that one hit was a huge one.
After Wendelken pitched out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the top of the 10th, Las Vegas started the bottom of the inning with Brown at second base per Minor League Baseball's extra-innings pace-of-play rules. Tinoco (3-1) got Joseph to strike out looking to start the inning before Nuese came up and slapped a 1-1 pitch to shallow center field.
Even though Isotopes center fielder Yonathan Diaz got a good jump on the ball, Aviators manager/third-base coach Fran Riordan waved Brown home. Diaz made a perfect throw to home plate, except the ball skipped past catcher Drew Butera, and Brown barely got a finger on home plate to complete what few thought they would ever see: the first 1-0 game in Las Vegas Ballpark history.
Game Notes: With his seven shutout innings, Blackburn lowered his ERA to a team-best 3.64. Over his last five starts, the 25-year-old has allowed just six runs (five earned) on 17 hits in 29 innings, good for a 1.55 ERA. ... In the first three games of the series with Albuquerque, Las Vegas relief pitchers have allowed just three runs in 11 2/3 innings. ... Aviators catcher Beau Taylor's seven-game hitting streak came to an end, but he did walk twice in three plate appearances, giving him a team-high 29 free passes for the season. ... Prior to Thursday, the lowest-scoring game at Las Vegas Ballpark occurred on May 7, when Las Vegas edged Salt Lake 3-1. ... Thursday's sellout was the 21st of the season at the ballpark ... The Aviators and Isotopes conclude their series at 7:05 p.m. Friday. Las Vegas' Tanner Anderson (3-4, 6.86 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Albuquerque's Peter Lambert (2-2, 5.70) in a battle of right-handers.
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