Aviators Squander Lead in the Ninth, Suffer Stunning 6-3 Loss to Reno
It was bound to happen eventually, if only because no streak in baseball lasts forever (unless your name is Joe DiMaggio). The Aviators discovered that truth Monday night - and discovered it in brutal fashion.
Having won all 47 games this season when leading after eight innings, Las Vegas took a 3-2 advantage into the ninth inning at Las Vegas Ballpark, only to watch the Reno Aces score four runs and steal a 6-3 victory before a crowd of 7,966.
As stunning defeats go, this one ranked about a 12 on a 1-10 scale - not so much because the Aviators failed to slam the door shut for a 48th straight time but because of how the game played out. After taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, the Aces - who tallied 17 hits in Sunday's 14-5 victory at Las Vegas Ballpark - managed just three baserunners in the ensuing seven innings. And two of those runners reached in the second inning.
However, after Las Vegas scored three runs in the bottom of the second to take a lead that reliever Kyle Friedrichs preserved with six near-perfect innings, Reno's hitters suddenly awoke in the nick of time.
With one out in the top of the ninth, five of the next six Aces batters reached, starting with back-to-back home runs by second baseman Ildemaro Vargas and third baseman Drew Ellis, followed by a trio of singles. Those five hits were more than Reno tallied in the first eight innings against Aviators starting pitcher A.J. Puk and Friedrichs combined.
Puk actually was a bit shaky in his first start since being optioned from the Oakland A's back to Las Vegas on Wednesday. He gave up a two-run homer to Reno left fielder Cooper Hummel in the top of the first and went on to yield a total of three hits and a walk in two innings of work (although he recorded his six outs on four strikeouts on a double play).
Moments after Puk threw his final pitch in the top of the second, the Aviators quickly erased their 2-0 deficit. Designated hitter Aramis Garcia led off the bottom of the inning with a homer over the left-center field fence off Reno starting pitcher Edgar Arredondo. Aviators third baseman Vimael Machín and right fielder Luis Barrera promptly followed with a walk and a single, and each then advanced a base on a wild pitch.
Both came home one out later thanks to left fielder Marty Bechina's line drive that gave Las Vegas a 3-2 lead - a lead that would hold up thanks to Friedrichs, who turned in arguably the most dominant performance by an Aviators pitcher all season.
Not only did the right-hander toss six shutout innings, but the only baserunner he permitted - Vargas, who reached on a one-out single in the sixth - was erased one pitch later on an inning-ending double play. Friedrichs was tremendously efficient, needing just 56 pitches to face the minimum 18 hitters, in large part because 43 of those pitches were strikes.
When Friedrichs ended the eighth inning with his fourth and final strikeout of the night, it appeared certain that the 29-year-old San Diego native would pick up his third career Triple-A victory - actually, more than "appeared," considering the Aviators' flawless record in 2021 when holding a lead entering the ninth inning.
But it wasn't meant to be.
With regular closer Domingo Acevedo getting the night off, Las Vegas manager Fran Riordan turned to his next-best option: right-hander Ben Bracewell. In his previous eight appearances since August 23, Bracewell had allowed only one unearned run in 9 1/3 innings. The veteran right-hander immediately extended that streak when Reno center fielder Alek Thomas grounded out to start the inning.
Then everything fell apart, as Vargas barely cleared the high wall in left field for a solo homer to tie it, and Ellis followed with a long blast over the left-center field fence to give the Aces a 4-3 lead. Reno then tacked on two insurance runs thanks to three singles and an RBI groundout.
Any hopes that the Aviators would answer Reno's comeback with one of their own in the bottom of the ninth were quickly dashed when Aces reliever Matt Peacock-in just his third career Triple-A appearance - retired the side in order on two strikeouts and a flyout.
With that, Las Vegas' streak of late-inning success came to a screeching halt.
*GAME NOTES: *The Aviators grounded into four double plays, while Reno bounced into two twin-killings. ... Bechina (1-for-3, 2 RBI), Barrera (3-for-3, run) and second baseman Mickey McDonald (2-for-4) had six of Las Vegas' eight hits. ... Barrera has multiple hits in three straight games, is 8-for-14 with two doubles and a triple in his last four contests and has scored one run in five consecutive games. Meanwhile, McDonald has picked up multiple hits in four straight games, going 9-for-17 with seven RBI. ... Shortstop Pete Kozma (0-for-3) saw his nine-game hitting streak snapped. ... The appearance by Friedrichs, who on August 23 was recalled for the second time this season from Double-A Midland (Texas), was his seventh for Las Vegas but just his second out of the bullpen. He lowered his Triple-A ERA from 5.79 to 4.60. ... Las Vegas hasn't scored more than six runs in 14 straight games. ... Reno leads the season series 14-9 (7-4 at Las Vegas Ballpark).
*ON DECK: *Las Vegas and Reno conclude their six-game series at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at Las Vegas Ballpark. The Aviators will morph into their alter ego, the Reyes de Plata ("Silver Kings"), for the final time this season as part of Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión initiative that celebrates local Hispanic/Latino culture.
Veteran right-hander Mike Fiers, who is on a rehab assignment from the parent Oakland A's, will get the start for the Aviators and oppose Aces right-hander Humberto Mejia (6-5, 5.85 ERA). After Fiers departs, Las Vegas righty Brian Howard (5-4, 6.14) is expected to take the mound.
Individual tickets for Tuesday's game are available through the team's ticketing page.
Catch every Aviators game throughout the season on Raider Nation Radio 920-AM, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @AviatorsLV. Follow Aviators beat writer Matt Jacob on Twitter @MattRJacob.
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