|Bryan Conant had another strong outing|
Hats off to yet another solid pitching performance by "the Barbarian" as he was mowing them down today, pitching eight big innings and allowing only four hits and one earned run while striking out nine. Conant was the poster child for "all business" as he confidently walked off after each inning with a determined glare that was backed up by his arm. The dugout was upbeat as well with lots of chatter and a good amount of energy. The 'Cats got on the board early, putting up a run in the first and matching the Knights run in the third to stay one run ahead. Things looked good.
Cue the ninth inning, which deserves some discussion. Conant was cruising, after facing the minimum three batters in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. His pitch count was only 107 - which is low by Victoria starter standards - and he had the Knights continuously off balance with a good mix of fastballs and breaking stuff. In the pen was Ryan Keller, who has not allowed an earned run in his last nine appearances and was ready to shut the door. So what do you do?
I think the coaching staff made the right decision in going with Keller, but it was not an opinion shared by all the fans around me going. As it turned out (remembering folks that hindsight is 20-20), I couldn't have been more wrong. WHAM - A first pitch single to leadoff man Blake "the Fake Snake" Drake. BAM - two batters later, All Star Cody Lenahan rips a double. THANK YOU MAM - next batter, Kevin Kline (no...not THAT Kevin Kline) smacks a double. Just like that the one run lead is a one run deficit. And the cherry on top was the routine liner to right field for the third out was nonchalanted by Brett Urabe, allowing an insurance run to cross the plate. This error book-ended the 'Cats other error in the third inning when left fielder Nick Rutckyj (the "j" is silent) played a routine single like a bag of toys, allowing the first Corvallis run to score.
So should Conant have been yanked? I can't say for sure. It's easy to make calls from the stands. What I do know, is that the 'Cats did not get the key pitch or hit or catch when they needed it. Against good teams, sometimes you just have to "make the play" and this is exactly what Victoria did NOT do on the mound, at the plate or in the field.
In fact, despite giving up those three runs in the ninth, Victoria actually made some noise in the ninth. Alex DeGoti smacked a lead-off double to make him four for four on the day and before you know it, Alex Real was pinch hitting with runners on first and third and two out. This was the end for Knights starter Jacob Schroeder, who also pitched a great game, scattering seven hits and giving up only the two early runs. Enter "lights out" closer Brandon Choate who starts off with a walk to Real to load the bases for local boy Austin Russell. Every kid dreams of this - two out, bottom of the ninth, down by two runs, but alas, it was not to be, as Russell grounded out to end the game.
As an aside, in what I'd like to call the "Mary Kay Makeup Call of the Game", a field umpire (I'm not sure which one) called a balk on what should have been a Chris Lewis groundout in the sixth inning with two out and a man on first, only to punch him out with a VERY dubious check swing just a couple of pitches later. Come on blue, that's as transparent as a Jersey Shore come-on line.
In any case, it was a great ball game with it's good share of drama, but if the 'Cats are to make a serious playoff charge, they really need to start making plays at key moments in the game. They are still only four games out of a playoff spot, but Wenatchee is also above them fighting for that prize, and there are only fourteen games to go. Seems unlikely, but it all has to start with a win tomorrow in the series wrapup with the Knights. More great weather is in the forecast, so get out there and give the lads a push!