An unusual and strange weekend of weather played havoc with the HarbourCats series, but all was not lost – in fact, all was won. After having their first ever rain-out Friday night, the weather stayed away Saturday to allow two seven-inning games to be played to get the series back on track – right before all wet-hell broke loose Sunday to force a second rained-out game. Sunday was also the very first rain delay in HarbourCats history, as the game actually begun the top of the first inning in the sunshine before being halted by the quickly approaching storm.
Thus the series is shortened to two games only, and with the Cats winning both Saturday games, that’s a sweep – or as we call it, a Squeegee…
Not playing the third game is unfortunate at this point. With precious few days left in the season, there isn’t really an opportunity to make up the game – one that may end up having playoff implications for on of the teams. It can’t be fit into the current schedule – Walla Walla has Thursday and Friday off, then plays 9 games in 9 days to end the season. Victoria has only today and next Thursday off. There is a single day between the end of the season and the start of the playoff round, and Victoria will be in Bellingham to end the season, Walla Walla will be 4 hours away at home. An August 10th game could be played if it came down to it. As it sits now however, consider the Sweets vanquished for the season.
And just so everyone is on the same page, as soon as the schedule comes out next year, we are starting a petition here at the blog to make sure the Sweet’s mascot Sweet Lou makes the trip to Victoria next year with the team. As Darth mentioned in his preview, best mascot ever, and he needs to make the trip! Stay tuned on that, we’ll need your support!
So about the series, or as the 70’s classic band Chicago likes to call it, Saturday in the park (I guess it was the 25th of July)… Saturday was one of those days that as a baseball fan, keeps you coming back to the park. A roller-coaster of emotions, the highs and lows of the game were on display throughout, with two endorphin-pumping victories to show for it.
Not many were in attendance for the start of the first game of the double-header, and they didn’t miss much for the first few innings. Johnathan Buckley showed he isn’t ready for this level, lasting only an inning after giving up 2 runs on 2 hits and a walk. Tei Vanderford pitched 4 innings of relief giving up a single run on three hits while striking out 6 Sweets hitters.
Victoria bats were silent until the fifth inning, when a walk to Scott Jarvis and singles by Alex DeGoti and Griffin Andreychuk loaded the bases for Austin Guibor, who stepped up and jacked a grand slam just inside the right-field foul pole to put Victoria up 4-3.
That lead was short lived however, as reliever Shawn Kennedy promptly gave up a two-run HR to light-hitting 1B Clayten Ayres in the 6th, then another monster shot to dead center field to SS Connor Kopach. Victoria went to the bottom of the seventh and final inning training by 2.
In what can only be described as a kitchen sink of a bottom-half, Victoria pulled victory from the jaws of defeat with this:
- A lead-off double (by a surging Kevin Collard).
- A pinch-hit, hit-by-pitch of A.J. Alcantara, who was pinch-run for by Reno Rankin.
- A walk to Austin Guibor.
- Another HBP to Ben Polshuk to make it 6-5.
- A perfectly placed sac fly by Jackson Thoreson to bring in the 6-6 tying run.
- An intentional walk planned for PJ Floyd – after throwing a ball to start the at-bat, Sweets pitcher Juan Gamez air-mailed the first intentional-walk ball a foo over the head of catcher Dylan Wilbert, and an alert and speedy Austin Guibor chugged home from third, beating the play at the plate to score the winning run. An intentional walk – walk-off victory?
And did I mention that Gamez, the losing pitcher, had started the game at DH, going 2-4 before he took the mound? You can’t write this kind of stuff folks, it has to be seen to be believed.
A huge comeback win, and the excitement flowed into game 2. Henry Omana absolutely dominated the Sweets into the 5th inning giving up only a single hit while striking out 6. Victoria scored runs in the 2nd, and 4th, and after giving back a run in the top of 5, scored a big insurance run they would later need on yet another wild pitch that brought Chase Lambert in from third. Josh Walker gave up 4 hits and a walk but only a single run, and Austin Dondanville got the final four batters giving up only a single walk to earn the save, and complete the squeegee.
The two wins put Victoria two games back in the wild-card race, at a record of 20-21.
Cowlitz Black Bears preview
Literally, it’s now time to make hay while the sun shines. The Black Bears come to town, a WCL bottom-dweller and a great opportunity to get Victoria nearer that coveted wild-card spot. Cowlitz comes in with a 17-25 record, having lost their last 5, and 7 of their last 10 – however Cowlitz has Victoria’s number so far this season with 4 wins in 6 games in a home-and-home series back in mid-July.
The Cowlitz team is a bit of an inigma. They have some of the best pitching in the WCL, including All-Star Cal “Sea Bass” Neely who boasts an outstanding 1.71 ERA and a sick 0.83 WHIP in 7 starts. He has given up 1 earned run or less in 4 of those 7 starts, but has only 1 win to show for it against 3 losses. Joe Balfour is at the top of his game as well – his 2.02 ERA has earned him a 4-1 record – so at least the Bears are winning when he pitches. And if the Bears get ahead late, they are one of the only teams in the WCL with a true closer in righty Lars Rider. Rider leads the WCL with 10 saves, with a 1.38 ERA and 24 Ks in 13 innings.
Both Balfour and Neely are scheduled to start, along with tough Lefty Chris Castellanos (2-1, 3.60 ERA). Castellanos is no slouch either, coming off a tough 2-1 loss in Corvallis where he pitched 5.1 scoreless innings.
At the dish is where the Bears are struggling. Only 2 Bears are hitting over .300 on the year – OF Slate Miller (.319), and SS AJ Graffanino (.317). First baseman Lorin Archibald is the power threat on the team, he leads the team with 4 HR and 29 RBI. Archibald was a monster the first time he was in Victoria, going 7-14 with 4 RBI in the three games, including a 3-run HR.
As a team, the Bears are hitting .249, just slightly better than Victoria’s .246. The teams are very similar in almost all other offensive stats. The one surprising difference though is in the number of at-bats the Bears have had. Cowlitz trails only WCl-leading Bend in plate appearances with 1480 in their 42 games, an average of 35.2 a game. Victoria by comparison has sent only 1356 batters to the plate, or 33.1 per game. While 2 extra batters a game doesn’t seem like much, it points to a 124 more runners on base, and without the clutch hitting to drive them in, those LOB turn into losses for their pitching staff. More often than not in baseball, it’s the little things like this that make a huge difference over the course of a season.
Victoria pitchers for the series are not announced, and it will be interesting to see if Matt Blais gets another crack at a start after pitching the one inning in the Sunday rainout. I suspect he would, along with Dominic ToPoozian, and maybe Austin Dondanville, who’s inning of relief wouldn’t have had much impact on a later start.
Of note on the pitching side, both Jonathan Buckley and reliever-turned-starter Josh Mitchell were both released after yesterday’s game, leaving Nick Wojtysiak as the only lefty on the squad. Mitchell had pitched great for the ‘Cats recently, but hit his inning limit – don’t forget he was coming back from a recent Tommy John surgery. His mustache will be missed down the stretch.
Should be a good series, with Victoria needing the wins to keep in the playoff hunt. They will be in tough against some top-level pitchers, and low-scoring wins will be the key. Don’t look for double-digit games this week, just some good old-fashioned small-ball offence. Enjoy them, we don’t have many left… Games go Tuesday and Wednesday at 6:35, and Thursday in the afternoon sun with a 1:05 start. A great way to get the kids out of the house for the afternoon – and mom and dad out of the office!
And the poll. Tell us what you think will happen…