Steven Matz Dominates to Extend Las Vegas 51s Win Streak to 7
To many it may not seem like long ago that the Las Vegas 51s were 5-8 and near the bottom of the Pacific Southern Division in the Pacific Coast League. It seems like such a short time ago, but it was just eight days since they were in that position. Oh how times have changed as the club has rolled, winning its seventh straight game and is now tied for the division lead. Thursday night’s dominating performance by Steven Matz (3-1) gave the 51s time to mount a late rally in the 7-2 victory, moving them to 13-8 and tied for first with the El Paso Chihuahuas.
Matz was the story early on, dominating the Reno Aces hitters for seven innings. The lefty entered the contest with two straight wins, both outstanding starts where he allowed a combined one run in 12 innings pitched. He has been one of the more dominant pitchers in the league so far this season, so it was not a surprise to see him pitch so well.
Despite this, the contest began looking like this was not going to be Matz’s day. Garrett Weber led off the game with a double and advanced to third on a single by Kevin Frandsen to put runners at first and third with no one out. One out later Nick Evans walked to load the bases, and things were looking quite dicey. Jamie Romak followed with a single that moved everyone up 90-feet, and staked Reno to the 1-0 lead. Matt Pagnozzi then lofted a flyball into centerfield. Frandsen broke for home, but a great throw by Darrell Ceciliani nailed the Aces third baseman at the plate to keep it a one-run game.
From there Matz took charge. Entering the contest, Matz had struck out 19 batters 22.1 innings pitched, nearly a strikeout per inning average. On Thursday, Reno learned that his stuff is a whole lot more dominating than he had shown early on. Aces’ hitters were caught flailing at pitches as they simply could not recreate their first inning success.
Danny Worth and Robbie Ray each struck out looking in the second. In the third Pat O’Brien struck out swinging. In the top of the fourth Evans walked again, but Romak struck out swinging, and Pagnozzi followed by hitting into his second double-play of the game. In the fifth he allowed a single to Ray, but Worth, Trayvon Robinson and Weber all struck out swinging, bringing Matz strike out total to seven through five innings.
In the sixth Frandsen led off with a single. Matz then struck out O’Brien and Evans looking. With Romak at the plate Frandsen attempted to steal second base, but Johnny Monell made a perfect throw to gun him down and end the inning. In the seventh Romak, Pagnozzi and Worth all struck out to give Matz 12 on the day. The lefty’s day was over after seven innings, with eight of the last nine outs coming via the strikeout. Matz allowed just five hits and two walks in his seven innings of work, with just one run allowed. It was his third straight win of the season.
While Matz was dominating for the Las Vegas 51s, Robbie Ray (1-3) was also pitching exceptionally well for Reno, shutting out the home team through the first five innings. He, too, was bringing the heat, striking out at least one batter in each of the first four innings, including two in the first, second and fourth innings. Ray allowed just three doubles, two singles and a walk through the first five innings, and the 51s never had more than one runner on base at a time. He was cruising, until…
In the sixth, after throwing 104 pitches, the lefty simply wore down. He allowed a lead-off walk, then struck out Matt Reynolds, before giving up a single to Monell. That was it for Ray, as the game was turned over to Derek Eitel. He was unable to deliver the pitches the Aces needed.
Brooks Conrad greeted Eitel with a double that scored Muno and tied the game. Brandon Allen was intentionally walked and Travis Taijeron followed with a lined single to left field that scored Monell. Ray had dominated for five innings, but just like that he moved from his team leading by one to trailing by a single run.
In the seventh Willy Paredes entered the contest, and Las Vegas would blow it open. Cory Vaughn singled and stole second base. Wilfredo Tovar grounded out moving Vaughn to third. Danny Muno walked and Matt Reynolds struck out, making it first and third with two outs. That brought Monell to the plate.
Monell had been involved in the action all game, catching Matz’s gem, gunning down Frandsen when he tried to steal second, and tagging him out when he attempted to score in the first. He had also scored the go ahead run in the sixth. Now it was time for Monell to deliver his biggest moment of the game. He took a Paredes offering and drilled it over the right-centerfield wall for his fourth home run of the year, giving his team a 5-1 lead.
In the eighth Las Vegas added two more runs. Vaughn singled with one out, and Tovar followed with a line drive into centerfield that hit off of the rightfielder’s glove and rolled away for a triple. That brought Vaughn home. Muno then lined a double into the gap in leftfield to make it 7-2.
The Las Vegas 51s finished with 14 hits and six walks on the day. Muno, Tovar, Monell, Conrad, and Vaughn all had at least two hits, and Monell had three RBI. The only negative aspect to the team’s performance was that they were just 4-17 with runners in scoring position, and left 11 men on base.
These two teams will face off again Friday night. Game time is 7:05 local time.
By Robert Pannier