Sacramento Hands Aviators Third Straight Loss
During their remarkable 11-10, walk-off victory over the Sacramento River Cats on Thursday night, the Aviators accomplished something few Pacific Coast League squads have this season: They got the best of hard-throwing River Cats closer Fernando Abad, handing him just his second blown save after pushing across two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap an improbable 10-run rally.
Some 72 hours later, Abad returned to the Las Vegas Ballpark mound with his team clinging to a one-run lead and needing five outs to secure its third straight victory. This time around, Abad delivered, and in dominating fashion. Not only did Abad retire all five batters he faced, the southpaw struck out the first four - with the first two coming with the tying run standing on second base in the eighth inning - to preserve Sacramento's 4-3 victory Sunday before a sun-drenched crowd of 7,863.
Ironically enough, Abad nailed down his ninth save by inducing a game-ending groundout from the Aviators' Corban Joseph, the Pacific Coast League's leading hitter who singled off Abad to end Thursday's wild comeback.
Sacramento's second 4-3 victory in as many days put a damper on a brilliant performance by Las Vegas starting pitcher Jake Buchanan. In what was arguably his best outing of the season, Buchanan scattered just four hits and a walk across a season-high seven innings. The 29-year-old right-hander also established a season high with eight strikeouts, with the last punchout coming on his 99th and final pitch.
The only mistakes Buchanan made were two pitches to Sacramento designated hitter Zach Green, and Green deposited both over the center-field wall in consecutive at-bats in the fourth and seventh innings. Because of those mistakes, when Buchanan walked off the mound for the final time, he was trailing 2-0.
That's because the Aviators' hitters struggled mightily against River Cats starting pitcher Enderson Franco, who was nearly flawless through six innings. The right-hander, who entered Sunday with a 6.40 ERA, gave up a single to Las Vegas leadoff hitter Eric Martini on his second pitch. He then retired 18 of the next 19 hitters he faced, issuing only a two-out, second-inning walk to Skye Bolt.
But in the seventh inning, the Aviators finally figured out Franco. Franklin Barreto legged out an infield single to lead off the inning, and one pitch later, Seth Brown crushed his team-leading 17th home run. The booming blast to right-center field was a welcomed relief for Brown, and not just because it tied the game and took Buchanan off the hook: Prior to that at-bat, the first baseman had struck out in seven consecutive plate appearances and was mired in a 2-for-21 slump with 15 strikeouts.
While Brown's heroics got the Aviators even, the momentum didn't last long, as Sacramento's Chris Shaw broke the 2-2 tie in the eighth with a one-out, two-run single off Las Vegas reliever Trey McNutt (1-1). The Aviators trimmed their deficit to 4-3 when Chris Heim and Martini ripped consecutive doubles to left field against River Cats reliever Travis Bergen.
And that's when Sacramento manager Dave Brundage summoned Abad from the bullpen. With Martini on second, Abad struck out Dustin Fowler and Barreto to end the eighth, then fanned pinch-hitter Eric Campbell and Sheldon Neuse to start the ninth. That set the stage for his rematch against Joseph, and this time, the battle went to the pitcher.
GAME NOTES: Joseph did single in the seventh inning to extend his hitting streak to eight games, during which he's 15-for-30 (.500). The veteran infielder is now batting .371. ... Las Vegas manager Fran Riordan gave shortstop Jorge Mateo a nice gift on his 24th birthday: a rare day off. Or at least most of the day, as Mateo was called upon to pinch-run in the eighth inning. Mateo, who has played in 70 of his team's 76 games, never got an at-bat, so he still owns a nine-game hitting streak. For the season, he's hit safely in 61 of his 70 games, including 22 of 24 since May 27. ... The River Cats finally tamed hot-hitting Aviators third baseman Sheldon Neuse, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, ending his nine-game hitting streak. ... After going 10-2 in the first 12 meetings with Sacramento this season, Las Vegas has dropped the last three Despite dropping the last two games. ... With Sunday's defeat, the Aviators are now 5-11 in day games, and their record at Las Vegas Ballpark dipped below .500 for the first time (19-20).
TRANSACTION ACTION: Prior to Sunday's game, Aviators closer Brian Schlitter received some welcomed travel news: He was boarding a plane and heading to Oakland to join the A's, who purchased the right-hander's contract after placing closer Blake Treinen on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder strain.
The last time Schlitter was on a big-league roster was in 2015, when he appeared in 10 games for the Chicago Cubs during their World Series-winning season. In three separate big-league stints - all with the Cubs in 2010, 2014 and 2015 - Schlitter is 3-6 with a 5.40 ERA. The 33-year-old from Illinois appeared in 27 games for the Aviators, going 4-1 with a 3.89 ERA, a 27-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 10 saves in 12 chances.
To replace Schlitter on the Las Vegas roster, Oakland promoted right-handed reliever Kyle Finnegan from Double-A Midland. Finnegan, who was 0-1 with a 1.59 ERA and nine saves in nine opportunities at Midland, arrived at the ballpark in the middle of Sunday's game and was called upon to pitch the ninth inning. He looked sharp, retiring all three River Cats he faced, striking out two.
ON DECK: The Aviators and River Cats conclude their five-game series (and the latest homestand) Monday on Pride Night. Las Vegas southpaw Tyler Alexander (4-3, 5.18) will look to record his fourth consecutive victory when he opposes Sacramento right-hander Yoanys Quiala (3-3, 5.33). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
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Pacific Coast League Stories from June 23, 2019
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