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The River Cats were sailing along on this eight-game homestand. As winners of the first five, things seemed to be on cruise control.
But this is the Pacific Coast League, where anything can happen — and quite frequently does.
The Nashville Sounds came to town for a four-game stop and, after losing the first contest, found their stride and took the next game from Sacramento. On Tuesday evening the Cats would lose their second game in a row to the Sounds 5-4 on a wild pitch by Merkin Valdez in the top of the ninth inning.
On Wednesday afternoon, the River Cats were looking to end their small two-game losing streak, and did so when Daric Barton was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. The Cats won a pitcher’s duel 1-0.
Two exciting games in less than 24 hours. Both games weren’t decided until nearly the final at bat.
In Tuesday's affair, the Cats wasted no time in getting some numbers on the Raley Field scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning.
Following a walk to Jermaine Mitchell, Cats second baseman Grant Green, who had a 13-game hitting streak entering the contest, continued his torrid pace with a sharp double that plated Mitchell for the first run of the evening. Green went to third on the throw home, but Mitchell came up holding his right thigh after sliding into home on the play. However, he would be okay to return.
Josh Donaldson then hit a line drive single into right center to score Green from third to give the Cats an early 2-0 lead.
After a couple of strikeouts, Sacramento loaded the bases on a Barton single and a base on balls to Brandon Hicks. The rally ended on a Shane Peterson strikeout, but the Cats had already done some damage.
Ross really settled in over the next few frames, as he faced only one over the minimum from the second to the fifth innings. The stretch included five strikeouts and six ground outs to the infield. No one was able to get solid wood on his pitches.
The Sounds finally got something started in the sixth when Edwin Maysonet, the ninth hitter in the lineup, led with a clean double over the head of Cats third baseman Stephen Parker. After a sacrifice by Corey Patterson, Eric Farris singled in Maysonet for the first run for Nashville.
One out later, Khris Davis singled in both Farris and Brown to give the Sounds their first lead of the game. After the Cats failed to score in the bottom of the sixth, the score was 3-2 in favor of Nashville.
That was it for Tyson Ross, as he had a solid night and looked to have good control of his pitches until the sixth, when the Sounds batters started to figure him out.
“Tyson did a good job,” said Cats manager Darren Bush. “He was very aggressive. He ran into a little trouble in the sixth. There was really only one ball hit real hard, but they found some holes and pushed across three runs.”
On the defensive side of things, Green was outstanding in the field. He was diving to his left and his right all night in an effort to save balls from going into the outfield. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seem so many putouts by one player. He was involved in seven ground ball putouts to first base, caught two popups and helped turn two double plays.
In short, he was everywhere.
“Grant did a good job at second base,” said Bush. “He ranged both ways — left and right — and made all the plays. He’s been working hard over there, learning a new position, and so far so good.”
Arnold Leon came to relieve Ross, but didn’t keep the Sounds at bay. He gave up a solo shot to the first batter he faced in Jeff Bianchi, and Nashville put some more cushion between them and the Cats.
Mitchell got the Cats closer in the bottom of the seventh on a one-out triple that plated Stephen Parker.
However, every little bit helps, as the Cats would score again in the eighth to tie the game. One out after a leadoff triple by Kila Ka’aihue, Barton singled in pinch-runner Wes Timmons to lock the game at 4-4.
Valdez had his hands full in the ninth. After a one-out triple by Logan Schafer, Bianchi was intentionally walked. Following a Humberto Quintero strikeout, Valdez threw a wild pitch that allowed Schafer to score and break the tie.
The Cats would not score in the ninth as the visiting Sounds won their second straight in SacTown.
In the afternoon game on Wednesday, it was Bruce Billings on the mound for the Cats.
Billings entered the game is in the top ten in the Pacific Coast League in several pitching categories including ERA, WHIP and base runners per nine innings.
Nashville found it almost impossible to get a hit off of him. In his seven innings, Billings faced only two batters over the minimum, giving up only two hits and striking out six.
His counterpart, Sounds pitcher Hiram Burgos, did more than hold up his end of the bargain. In his six strong, he also gave up two hits and had five strikeouts.
The pitcher’s duel kept any crooked numbers from being etched on the towering Raley Field scoreboard until the game went into extra innings.
Cats manager Darren Bush was pleased with his starter’s effort.
“He was outstanding,” said Bush. “He attacked the zone. He went seven innings on 93 pitches. We could have possibly sent him back out there. If it wasn’t a hundred degrees out, we probably would have.”
Donovan Hand came in to start the 10th frame, but just couldn’t put the ball where he wanted it to be.
Brandon Hicks led with a ground rule double that was helped by a glaring sun in the eyes of Sounds center fielder Logan Schafer. Schafer never really saw the ball, which bounced several feet away from him and over the center field fence.
The next hitter was Shane Peterson, who was intentionally walked to give Nashville a force out at any base. One batter later, Donaldson walked to load the bases and bring Barton to the plate. On a 1-2 pitch, Hand hit Barton on the upper arm, which forced the winning run across the plate.
The only Cats player to get a hit in the first nine innings was Donaldson, who had all three of Sacramento’s base knocks.
Donaldson may not be ecstatic to not be playing for the A’s, but he never lets that get in the way of how he goes about his business.
“Their starter was doing a real good job of locating,” said Donaldson. “He didn’t really have anything overpowering, but was hitting his spots. My second at bat was the first time he really came over the plate with anything and I was able to hit a double.”
Bush was happy to see Donaldson get three hits, but may have been more impressed with his at bat in the 10th, when he loaded the bases for Barton.
“That last AB (at bat) was really big because he laid off a couple of tough pitches,” said Bush.
The Cats now have a six-game lead over the Las Vegas 51’s in the PCL’s Pacific Southern division.
After a day off on Thursday, the River Cats head out on an eight-game road trip to Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
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