Cats split rare doubleheader, second one a classic against rival Aces
This was one to remember.
On a beautiful afternoon at Raley Field on Saturday, one rare occurrence seemed to open the door for several more as the day went on and the Sacramento River Cats split a rare double header against their bitter rivals, the Reno Aces.
The Aces won the first contest 3-2 and the Cats won the nightcap 5-4 in a game that had just about everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.
How about both managers being ejected during the same at-bat, a foul ball that found it’s way into the press box, a guy being about a foot short of hitting for the cycle and a walk-off homer run all occurring during the crazy second game?
We’ll save that for later. How about the first game?
The home team struck first in the second inning. After Jai Miller struck out, hot-hitting Josh Donaldson, who’s hit .353 and had a 1.009 on-base percentage the past ten games, ripped a liner into the left field corner for a double. Second baseman Andy LaRoche, who’s been picking up his average lately as well, singled to left to move Donaldson to third with only one out. Michael Taylor strode to the plate next and took an 0-2 pitch into right that scored Donaldson.
The Cats were up early 1-0 on the three consecutive hits in the frame.
The Aces of Reno put up their first digits of the game on the towering Raley Field scoreboard in the fourth on a fluke two-run single by Robby Hammock.
Before Hammock’s at-bat, David Winfree singled while Cole Gillespie and Andy Tray both walked to load the bases for the visitors. After a Konrad Schmidt strikeout, Hammock hit a ball up the middle that skipped off of Cats starting pitcher Carlos Hernandez’s leg, then rolled quickly into the hole between short and third. Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff drove into the hole to snag the fast-dribbling roller, but the ball bounced off his glove and rolled far enough away to allow a second runner to score on the play.
In the end, it was probably the weirdest two-run single I’ve ever seen.
The Cat got even quickly in the bottom half of the fourth.
Donaldson got his second double in as many at-bats and scored on Laroche’s second single of the game.
Donaldson, who struggled to find a comfort level at the plate early in the season, has been playing well the past couple of months, especially after the incident against Reno in their last meeting.
Donaldson, who was batting when a Reno pitcher intentionally threw behind him, ended up being suspended by the league for approaching the mound in what they must have considered a semi-threatening manner.
“I just feel pretty comfortable in the box right now,” Donaldson said after the twin bill. “It helps when guys aren’t throwing at your head every other game, but it’s just one of those things that most hitters goes through a spell where they’re feeling pretty good and right now I’m feeling pretty good, seeing the ball well and putting some good swings on them.”
Even though Donaldson, who went 2-for-2 with two doubles and a walk in game one, had been steadily increasing the average the last couple of months, I asked him if the incident had anything to do with his recent performance.
“For me, focus is a big part of it,” continued the 25-year old catcher. “Being able to go in there every day and being able to get consistent at-bats. Every at-bat, every games counts from here on out and the season’s going by too fast almost for me so it’s time really focus in and do the things I’m capable of doing.”
All quiet on the Western Front until the seventh and final inning of this rare double header when Aces leadoff man Evan Frey doubled into left center. Colin Cowgill’s single scored Frey for the go-ahead run.
With three bullets left in the gun, the Cats went down quietly in the seventh to lose the first of two on the day.
The Reno Aces win a close one in the first of two by the score of 3-2.
The other star for the Cats in the first game was Andy LaRoche. LaRoche is on of those players that was sent down by the big club to work out some kinks in his offensive game.
He’s been playing better lately indicative by his 3-for-3 and RBI performance and , thanks to Donaldson, thinks he found something in his swing that was preventing him from being as successful.
“I’m getting back to my old swing,” started LaRoche, “the way I used to be like back in my Dodger days. J.D. (Donaldson) actually noticed something with my back knee and since he told me that, I’ve been feeling a lot more comfortable at the plate and my timing’s been a lot better.”
In the second of two on a beautiful July evening in Sacramento, the Cats were wearing pink uniforms to raise money for cancer research. During the annual affair to raise funds for the Susan G. Koman Foundation, visitors had the chance to bid on the hot pink threads with the winner bidder getting to hit the field after the game and get that player’s signature on their newfound collectable.
Adrian Cardenas torched a foul line-seeking triple in the first inning that rolled all the way to the wall in right. Two batters later, Jai Miller hit a towering blast over the wall in left-center that landed on top of the ground keeper’s field house. What a monster blast! A true major league bomb in any park.
Reno didn’t take long to etch their own digits onto the scoreboard. With two outs in the second, Robby Hammock walked, Mark Hallberg singled and leadoff batter Evan Frey walked to load the bags.
That’s when Colin Cowgill popped weakly into shallow right. Even with three River Cats converging on the scene, no one could get there in time and the ball dropped softly near the foul line where the edge of the grass meets the dirt. The seeing-eye single scored two and locked the game in a 2-2 tie.
On a side note, before Tony Abreu flied out to center, he just got a piece of a fastball that came screaming back over the net. That’s when things went into slow motion for your fearless writer.
While sitting next to Nick Lozito, Coordinator of Media Relations & Interactive Media for the Cats, near the right corner of the press box, I locked onto the ball as it came straight for us. Unfortunately for me, I’m left-handed and the ball was speeding towards my right side. As I stood up, the ball entered through the press box open windows and I stuck out my right hand. Not sure if Lozito would also be going for the rocket shot, I was only able to get my right hand up and the ball hit the side of my palm at what seemed 70 -75 miles per hour. The ball just bounced off my hand and fell into the box between Lozito and myself.
After the fact, Lozito assured me he was having no part of the foul ball that was screaming towards us.
My one shot at glory and I couldn’t hang on. It didn’t matter though as I showed the crowd the ball and got a small undeserved ovation.
Back to the game.
Cardenas, who ended up a homer short of hitting for the cycle, led off the third with a single and he scored three batters later when LaRoche hit a roller to third that Hammock knocked down, but couldn’t get back to his feet in time to throw out LaRoche at first.
Chris Carter, who struggled in Oakland and since being back in Sacramento, was up next and hit a line drive into left that plated Kouzmanoff.
Carter’s been moved around defensively quite a bit as the Cats have tried him in the outfield, first base and third base. With all the things going on the defensive side of things, one has to wonder if it’s been affecting him at the plate.
“It’s not that hard, you know,” said the 6’4”, 240-pounder. “I keep them both separate. I can’t take by bat out onto the field and I can’t bring what I do on the field to my at-bats. I’m just trying to work on getting back right.”
The Aces struck right back in the next inning when Hammock took a 1-1 offering over the left-center field wall to get Reno to within one run.
In the sixth, something happened that I’ve never seen. Two managers ejected for different reasons during the same at-bat.
Cats Manager Darren Bush was ejected for either making some gestures or saying something the first base umpire didn’t like on what he thought was a check swing that first base umpire called a ball and Aces manager Brett Butler, yes that Brett Butler, was tossed for arguing a close play at the plate.
Bush sat somewhat confused in his office after the game; still wondering what he did to be ejected.
“Apparently, he thought I was doing something he thought was inappropriate,” said the skipper. “He thought I did something that he thought warranted I be thrown out of the game, but what is was, I’m not sure.”
Compared to what Butler did, Bush’s issues were minor to say the least.
The replay showed that home plate umpire was correct in calling Mark Hallberg out as Anthony Recker blocked the plate and Hallberg couldn’t get his hand in for the score.
Butler, who played for Atlanta, Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, flipped out after being ejected for arguing and then did a highly animated pantomime of his impression of what had happened. The crowd got a laugh out of Butler’s antics, which lasted a good minute or two.
Cardenas, who was a homer short of hitting for the cycle, torched the 2-1 pitch from Jordan Norberto deep to the warning track. The ball just missed going out of the park and Cardenas would come be the home run short of a rare feat.
Cardenas knew what his line was as on a pitch before his deep drive, he almost swung out of his shoes in his effort to take on out of the yard and complete the cycle.
“I usually don’t hit too many homers,” said Cardenas. “I’m usually the one that likes to keep my swing nice and short. But I’ve been working on a few things as far as trying to turn on inside pitches and be really taking advantage of my swings and hitting the ball a little bit harder. Obviously with the situation and the game being tied and me going to the cycle, I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t trying to hit a homer there.”
No worries for the Cats though as the next batter was Kouzmanoff, who took the second pitch he saw over the center field wall for a game-winning homer run.
“All I was thinking was get a good pitch to hit and trying to hit it hard,” said the slugger from the loud clubhouse as the Cats had the music cranking while celebrating the walk-off win. “We needed base runners at that point and I saw A.C. (Cardenas) hit his and I thought it was out, I really did because it came off the bat well and then just died. But I was trying to get a good pitch to hit and fortunately I got a pitch out over the plate that I was able to handle and drive out.”
PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
SARA MOLINA – RIVERCATS.com