Did you hear the one about the baseball team that refused to lose? This isn’t the opening line of classic baseball joke. This is the introduction to a baseball team that simply refuses to lose. That team is the Las Vegas 51s who, after sweeping the Albuquerque Isotopes in a double-header, ran their winning streak to 12 straight Pacific Coast League games, a franchise record.
The double-header sweep was such an amazing demonstration of how the 51s find a different way to win every night. In Game 1 Las Vegas slugged their way to an 11-2 victory. In Game 2 they rode their amazing bullpen to a 3-1 win.
In Game 1 the Isotopes actually led the game when they took the lead in the first inning. Brandon Barnes led off with a double against Las Vegas starter Steven Matz (4-1). One out later Wilin Rosario singled scoring Barnes to stake Albuquerque to a 1-0 lead.
The Las Vegas 51s responded right away. In the top of the second, Travis Taijeron walked with one out, and one out later Dan Rohlfing walked to put runners at first and second with two outs. Wilfredo Tovar, who played a pivotal role in both games, drilled a home run over the left-centerfield fence for a three-run homer, making it 3-1.
From there the 51s’ bats came alive. The club scored a run in the third to increase the lead to three. Darrell Ceciliani doubled with one out, and scored when Isotopes starter John Lannan threw a wild pitch to make it 4-1.
In the top of the fourth it was another three spot that Las Vegas put on the board. Rohlfing doubled to lead off the inning, and moved to third on a single by Matz. A run scored when Danny Muno grounded into a force out. Ceciliani and Matt Reynolds followed with back-to-back singles, with Muno scoring on Reynolds’ hit.
That was it for Lannan. Aaron Laffey relieved and finally ended the threat, but not before he gave up an RBI single to Brooks Conrad that brought Ceciliani across the plate.
The Isotopes attempted to mount a rally in the bottom of the fourth. Ryan Casteel doubled with one out, and scored when Angelys Nina singled. Tim Wheeler walked, and it was looking like Albuquerque was going to have a shot to get right back into this contest. However, Matz made a great pitch that got Joey Wong to hit into a double-play to end the inning, leaving the score 7-2.
In the sixth inning, Las Vegas blew the game open. Four straight singles by Muno, Ceciliani, Reynolds and Conrad to begin the inning scored two runs. Reynolds hit had loaded the bases, and Conrad’s drove home both runs. Brandon Allen brought home the third run with a ground out to make it 10-2.
In the top of the seventh the visitors got another run. This time it was Tovar with his second home run of the game that made the score 11-2. Tovar was having a huge day, and they hadn’t even got to the second game.
Matz pitched six innings for the win. He allowed nine hits and a walk while striking out seven. Lannan (0-1) took the loss.
Tovar finished the day 3-3 with two runs scored and four RBI. Conrad also had three hits and drove home three runs of his own. Ceciliani had three hits and scored three runs.
Game 2 was a completely different affair than the first contest. The one constant was that Tovar had a huge game again, however it was not his bat that did the damage, but his glove and legs that made the difference.
This contest had the makings of a slugfest when both teams scored in their halves of the first inning. The Las Vegas 51s got a double from Muno to lead off the game. Reynolds singled to bring Muno home, and Conrad singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Reynolds scored on a balk by Isotopes’ starter Leuris Gomez (0-2), and quickly the 51s were up 2-0.
In the bottom of the first Albuquerque got a run back. Tim Wheeler and Tim Smalling led off the inning with back-to-back singles. One out later Wheeler scored on a ground out by Matt McBride to make it 2-1.
Amazingly, neither team would be able to put up any further runs for the next five innings. The Isotopes did have their chances, but it was the Las Vegas defense that came up with big plays all game long to keep the club in front by a run.
In the second Duane Below came in to relieve following a lead-off walk issued by starter Logan Verrett. Nina had drawn the walk and, with Roger Bernadina at the plate, stole second. Bernadina then drew a walk, and the win streak was looking to be in some serious jeopardy. Gomez then laid down a perfect bunt to move both runners into scoring position with Wong coming to the plate. He lined a Below pitch into rightfield that Cory Vaughn caught. Nina tagged up and looked like he would score, but Vaughn made a perfect throw home to nail Nina at home and keep it 2-1.
In the bottom of the third Albuquerque threatened again, when Wheeler led off with a single, stole second, and reached third on a ground out. Below got Ben Paulsen to line out to second, and was then replaced by John Church. Church got McBride to hit a ground ball that looked like it was going to find a hole and skirt into left field. However, Tovar made a great play to reach the ball, and fired a perfect strike to first to nail McBride before he could reach safely. The play saved a run, and kept the Las Vegas 51s clinging to a 2-1 lead.
In the top of the seventh the visitors added an insurance run, and it was Tovar who was the hero of the inning. With Rex Brothers on the hill for Albuquerque, Tovar struck out swinging, but the pitch got away allowing the Las Vegas shortstop to reach base on the wild pitch. He then stole second and third to put himself in scoring position with one out. It was his sixth and seventh stolen bases of the season. Taijeron was the batter during the steals, and he would eventually walk to put runners at the corners. Muno struck out swinging for what would have been the second out, but the pitch got away again, allowing Tovar to score on the wild pitch. It was an incredible example of how the 51s can manufacture runs when need be, as they scored a run on a two wild pitches and two stolen bases.
In the ninth Chase Bradford closed out the game sending the Las Vegas 51s to their 12th straight win, tying a franchise record set back in 1987. Below (2-1) recorded the win. Bradford earned his third save of the season. Gomez (0-2) was the hard luck loser.
Muno had the hot bat for Las Vegas. He was 2-4 with a run and two doubles. The two teams combined to go 1-16 with runners in scoring position.
Tomorrow the Las Vegas 51s will be going for their franchise record 13th straight win when they play Albuquerque at 5:35 local time. Tyler Pill (0-0) goes for the visitors against Chris Rusin (1-2).
By Robert Pannier