A season that started with record-breaking promise is about to come to an inglorious halt tonight if the Salt Lake Bees pitchers can't figure out a way to keep the Sacramento River Cats from going deep with startling regularity.
"We picked a bad time to play one of the worst games we've played all year," said Bees manager Bobby Mitchell after his team's 13-5 loss Friday night at Franklin Covey Field.
The River Cats, for the second night in a row in two different ballparks, pounded five home runs against Bees. The win gives Sacramento a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 PCL Pacific Conference finals. The Bees, who started the season on a 21-1 roll, need to win both tonight's Game 4 and then again in Game 5 on Sunday afternoon or their season will end on a down note.
Bees outfielders spent much of the night chasing balls that cleared their heads and went over the fence.
"The home run ball is killing us," said Mitchell. "You're not going to win too many games giving up five a night and 10 in two games."
It's not like hitting five blasts in a game is a common occurrence even for the River Cats' potent offense. In fact, Sacramento never had five homers in a game during its entire 144-game regular season. They pounded four in a game just twice all year.
"They have hit every mistake that we've thrown up there," said Bees catcher Bobby Wilson. "They have yet to miss one. It's kind of been tough luck. ... It's frustrating because we wanted to come home and do something for the fans at least put up a good effort."
Shane Loux got the start for the Bees, but the PCL's pitcher of the year wasn't as sharp as usual. His second pitch, in fact, was pounded over the right-field fence by Sacramento lead-off hitter Chris Denorfia.
Loux, who has been called up to the parent Los Angeles Angels and was with the Bees on a rehab assignment after oral surgery, gave up a pair of homers in his three innings of work. Giancarlo Alvarado then surrendered three homers of his own in three-plus innings of work and the rout was on for the visitors from California's capital city.
Giving up homers was not the only problem for Salt Lake. The Bees may be one-step away from the majors, but their defense looked more little league in caliber during one particular batter with two outs in the fifth inning.
Sacramento's Carlos Gonzalez, one of the Oakland A's top prospects, hit a pop up in foul territory that should have been caught, but the ball glanced off the mitt of Bees third baseman Freddy Sandoval. Then, on the same at bat, Gonzalez drove the ball to center and Bees outfielder Brad Coon was under it for what looked like a routine out. Instead, Coon dropped the ball, allowing a run to score in the process.
Salt Lake wasn't the only team that struggled fielding the ball on Friday night, however. The River Cats committed three errors of their own. But the Bees didn't have nearly the success hitting the long ball as the River Cats. Wilson, who went 3-for-3 with a walk, was the one bright spot as far as power is concerned, hitting a solo homer for Salt Lake. But it wasn't nearly enough.
The Bees actually cut the gap to 6-3 in the sixth inning after RBI singles by Dee Brown and Adam Morrissey and they had the bases loaded and just one out. But shortstop Gary Patchett grounded into a double play and the threat was over.
Four runs in the top of the seventh by the River Cats which included two home runs put the game out of reach. Sacramento's Donnie Murphy hit a pair of homers, while Denorfia, Gonzalez and Justin Knoedler ripped one each.
Salt Lake will now send Nick Adenhart (9-13, 5.76 ERA) to the mound to face Sacramento's Vincen Mazzaro (3-3, 6.15) in tonight's do-or-die Game 4.
"We need a good pitching performance," said Mitchell. "That's the bottom line."BEELINES: Despite the loss, Salt Lake is now 12-7 in home playoff games in franchise history, compared to 10-22 on the road. ... Salt Lake hasn't had a great deal of success in playoff series since triple-A returned to town in 1994. The Buzz/Stingers/Bees are 3-8 with no PCL titles. But they have never been swept in any of their 12 playoff series. ... The River Cats now have 13 home runs in the three games of the series. ... The Iowa Cubs beat the Oklahoma Redhawks in the other PCL playoff game on Friday to take a 2-1 lead in that series.