Wally Backman‘s crew suffered two heartbreaking road losses to start the first round of the Pacific Coast League playoffs. Both games were won by the Salt Lake Bees in their final turn at-bat. The series shifted to Las Vegas for game three on Friday, where the 51’s barely managed to hold on for a 3-2 victory, thus avoiding getting swept and eliminated from this year’s post-season play.
In game one on Wednesday, the 51’s jumped out to a first inning 2-0 lead on Dustin Lawley‘s two RBI single. After three innings, they led 3-0 on Mike Baxter‘s triple, and a base hit by Eric Campbell. In the fourth inning, Salt Lake made it a 3-2 game, helped in part when Las Vegas starting pitcher Matt Fox walked in a run.
Matt Fox pitched 5.2 innings, allowed two runs on five hits, walked three and struck out two before departing on the winning side. In the eighth inning however, the Salt Lake Bees tied the game off Vegas reliever Sean Henn. Then in the ninth, second baseman Matt Long gave his team mates cause to gather around home plate in celebration after clubbing a game winning home run off Robert Carson.
In game two on Thursday, the 51’s led 3-2 after four innings. Kirk Nieuwenhuis led-off the game with a home run. But in the bottom of the third inning, Salt Lake took a 2-1 lead off Las Vegas starting pitcher Rafael Montero. In their very next at-bat, the 51’s jumped ahead again by a 3-2 score, thanks to Rylan Sandoval‘s two RBI single.
The Mets future hopeful suffered his lumps though. Rafael Montero only lasted 4.1innings, allowed three earned runs on five hits, walked three and struck out two before departing the game after surrendering a game tying home run to third baseman Andy Marte in the bottom of the fifth.
Once again, Salt Lake’s fortunes changed in the late innings against Las Vegas’ bullpen. The Bees went ahead 4-3 in the eighth off relievers Justin Hampson and Greg Burke. In the top of the ninth however, pinch-hitter Francisco Pena tied the game again at four with a two out double scoring Jamie Hoffmann. Wally Backman then handed the ball to Robert Carson in the ninth inning for the second consecutive night. A single and two intentional walks set the stage for a game winning sac-fly by center fielder Scott Cousins and a second straight Las Vegas loss.
Las Vegas was 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Salt Lake Bees starting pitcher Tommy Hanson had his way with Las Vegas, striking out eight over six innings pitched.
On Saturday, the series shifted to Cashman Field in Vegas for Game Three. Salt Lake took a 1-0 lead in the third inning off 51’s starter Giancarlo Alvarado. Although he battled with control, that’s all Giancarlo would allow. Alvarado pitched 5.2 innings, allowed one run on five hits, walked five batters and struck out four.
In the top of the eighth, the Bees got a hold of Chris Schwinden, then pitching in relief. A lead-off triple by first baseman Efren Navarro spelled trouble. A sharp one out single by Rusty Ryal delivered Navarro and knocked Schwinden from the game. Wally Backman turned to Cory Wade, who finished out Salt Lake the rest of the way.
With a 3-2 victory, the Las Vegas 51’s stayed alive in their best three of five series against the Salt Lake Bees. Game Four is scheduled for today at 3:05pm EST. Recently acquired by Sandy Alderson, Aaron Harang will climb the hill for Las Vegas. The Salt Lake Bees will counter will right-hander Billy Buckner. Game Five if necessary, will be played at Cashman Field.