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With rumors swirling that Cats phenom pitcher Dan Straily would be called up to the big club at any moment, Tyson Ross got the call to replace Straily in the starting lineup for Thursday’s tilt against the Memphis Redbirds.
With nearly the same type of clutch hitting as the night before, Ross’s fine performance and solid relief from James Timmons, Pedro Figueroa and Rich Thompson out of the bullpen, the Sacramento River Cats beat the visiting Redbirds 4-3 in front of 8,762 faithful in another exciting contest at Raley Field.
Even though it was the late clutch hitting of the Cats that helped pull out the victory, Cats manager Darren Bush couldn’t let the performance of his starter go unnoticed.
“I thought Tyson threw the ball really well,” stated Bush, who is in his second year as manager. “All his pitches were right around the zone. No big messes. ... with very good action on his pitches.”
With Ross pitching for the Cats and John Gast on the hill for the Redbirds, the game started as nearly the opposite — at least in pace — of last night’s affair. Both of the starters go very slowly from one pitch to the next, which sets up a long night at the park.
After giving up a double in the first and a single and a walk in the second, Ross finally gave up some runs to Memphis.
With one out in the third, Redbird right fielder Shane Robinson hit a line drive into right, which was later followed by one out with a single by third baseman Steven Hill. After a walk to designated hitter Mark Hamilton, second baseman Eugenio Velez hit a sharp grounder straight up the middle that scooted just past Ross and into centerfield for a two-run single that gave the Redbirds an early 2-0 lead.
Ross didn’t allow another run until the sixth. With one out, Redbird shortstop Pete Kozma singled, and one batter later leadoff hitter Adron Chambers hit a soft roller to Green at shortstop. Green fielded it, but made an errant throw to first. Kozma scored on the play, but when Chambers barely rounded first base, Daric Barton hustled over and made the tag for the third out of the inning.
After the sixth inning, Memphis had a 3-0 lead.
Up to this point, Redbird starter Gast was solid, if not spectacular. Through the sixth he had allowed no runs on four hits, two walks and five strikeouts.
Gast would finally start to show some wear as the Cats threatened in the seventh, when Anthony Recker, who pinch-hit for Derek Norris, lined a grounder into left field for a leadoff single. After Barton walked, Gast was removed from the game in favor of Nick Greenwood.
Greenwood never found his groove, as he walked the first batter he saw. A fielder’s choice and strikeout later, Colin Cowgill doubled into left. Barton, Wes Timmons and Jermaine Mitchell scored on the hit and Sacramento tied the score.
After an intentional walk to Josh Donaldson, Kila Ka’aihue ripped a shot into right that scored Cowgill and put the Cats ahead for the first time in the contest.
Bush spoke about the timely hitting.
“Recker leading off the seventh, and then us getting some big hits,” said Bush. “Cowgill with the bases loaded hitting the ball in the gap that scored three, and then K.K. (Kila Ka’aihue) coming up, after they intentionally walk J.D. (Josh Donaldson) — lefty on lefty — another big hit. It was good. It was a good day.”
The Redbirds tried to rally in the eighth when Velez, who had two previous singles, singled again and stole second and third to give Memphis a runner in the scoring position with two outs.
The threat was abruptly ended when Timmons made a great diving stop of a grounder that seemed destined to end up in right field. He was able to get up and throw Bryan Anderson out at first and stop the Redbirds rally cold, before dusting himself off and heading to the dugout.
“That was huge,” said Bush. “That’s the tying run, right there. And he goes over and ranges way out to his left and makes a great play. A game-saving play.”
For Timmons, it just gives him more leverage in convincing Bush to let him play shortstop, as Timmons’ career winds down.
“It’s just one of those plays,” said Timmons. “The ball’s hit and you just react. The funny thing is that I got on Bushy the game before for not letting me play shortstop. I wanted to play shortstop.”
Timmons was only half-kidding. He’s kind of a modern-day Campy Campaneris. He’s even pitched this year — his 10th in professional baseball.
Rich Thompson came in to close out the ninth. After Chambers walked, he was running to second when Luis Montanez struck out. Montanez didn’t slide, and was easily caught stealing.
Thompson then struck out Matt Adams, looking to earn his second save of the year.
Timmons may have made a game-saving stop, but, as always, gives a lot of credit to Bush for the team’s never-say-die attitude.
“It starts with Bush,” said Timmons. “It’s been like that for two years now. He has confidence in us and we go off of that. He doesn’t panic. We don’t do anything different. And we’ve done it enough times where you almost expect to do it and when you don’t, it’s like, wow, what happened?”
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