For much of the game it looked like the Albuquerque Isotopes were going to finally bring the Las Vegas 51s 12-game win streak to an end. Isotopes starter David Hale was cruising through the first five innings, but this is the never say die 51s, who battled their way to tie the score in the top of the eighth inning, then took advantage of a big mistake to add three runs in the ninth inning to walk away with their club record 13th straight Pacific Coast League victory, a new club record.
The 51s jumped out front in the top of the second inning when Brandon Allen led off the inning with a single, and scored on a double by Travis Taijeron. It was Taijeron’s first double of the year, and his 15th RBI.
Albuquerque immediately responded, scoring two in the bottom of the second against Las Vegas starter Tyler Pill. The 51s starter got the first out of the inning, but then gave up a double to Tim Smalling. One out later Joey Wong tripling to the wall in centerfield, scoring Smalling and tying the game. Hale then helped his own cause with a single that scored Wong, making it 2-1.
In the bottom of the third the Isotopes added to their lead. Pill got the first two outs of the frame, then gave up three straight singles to Ben Paulsen, Dustin Garneau and Smalling. Smalling’s line drive single to leftfield scored Paulsen, and it was 3-1.
The score remained that way until the top of the sixth when Las Vegas got a run back. Eric Campbell walked to lead off the inning, and he was forced on a ground out by Allen that put Allen at first with one out. With Taijeron at the plate, Allen was thrown out trying to steal second. Hale caught Allen leaning and threw to second for the out. That could have been a crushing play, as the next three hitters singled; Taijeron, Dan Rohlfing and Wilfredo Tovar. Tovar, who was the hero of yesterday’s double-header sweep, singled home Taijeron to make the score 3-2.
In the top of the eighth, Allen made up for being thrown out ahead of the three straight singles in the sixth. He led off the inning with a double and Taijeron walked. Rohlfing then laid down a perfect bunt, to put runners at second and third with one out. Tovar was then hit by a pitch, and it looked like this inning could be the big one the 51s were looking for. Tommy Kahnle walked Cory Vaughn to tie the game at three. A double play got the Isotopes out of the inning, but it was tied.
John Church took over the mound for Las Vegas in the bottom of the eighth and kept the score tied. A ground out, strike out and fly ball retired the Isotopes in order, setting up the dramatic ninth inning.
Jairo Diaz entered the game for Albuquerque, and his mistake would open the flood gates. Matt Reynolds singled to lead off the inning. Brooks Conrad then grounded a ball right back to Diaz that had double-play written all over it, but the Albuquerque reliever threw the ball into centerfield, putting runners at first and third with no outs. Eric Campbell came to the plate and grounded a ball to third baseman Tim Smalling who threw home to nail Reynolds. The throw was in plenty of time, but the Isotopes catcher could not handle it and Reynolds scored to give Las Vegas their first lead since the second inning. Allen then singled to score Conrad, and Taijeron walked to load the bases. One out later Tovar grounded to the shortstop in what should have been a double-play to end the inning. However, Angelys Nina’s throw to second was low so that only one out was made. That brought home Campbell, increasing the lead to 6-3. The Isotopes finally ended the threat, but the 51s had a three-run lead heading to the bottom of the ninth.
That brought Chase Bradford into the game to close it out, but the Isotopes were not going down without a fight. With one out Kyle Parker singled and one out later Paulsen singled to bring the tying run to the plate. Garneau grounded to Reynolds on a play that should have ended the game, but the shortstop let the ball play him. It squirted past him keeping the inning alive and cutting the lead to two. Smalling had the chance to be the hero, but Bradford made a great pitch that was popped up and caught by the Las Vegas closer in foul territory to end the game.
John Church (1-1) recorded the win with a perfect inning of relief in the eighth. Bradford recorded his fourth save of the season. Pill pitched better for Las Vegas (5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 SO), but received the no-decision. Diaz (1-2) took the loss.
Both Allen and Taijeron had three hits. Taijeron had a perfect night at the plate, going 3-3 with two walks, a run scored and an RBI. Tovar proved to have a big bat for the second night in a row, driving home two more, giving him 14 RBI on the season.
Despite the Las Vegas 51s going 2-18 with runners in scoring position, the team scratched together key hits when they needed them. The amazing 13-game winning streak has seen just about everything to see the streak continue, and tonight was no exception.
Tomorrow these two teams will go at it again. It is an early 10:05 start in Albuquerque. The Las Vegas 51s will send ace Noah Syndergaard (2-0) to the mound. The Isotopes have not named their starter yet.
By Robert Pannier