For their last home game of the 2012 season, the Vancouver Canadians wanted to make it last and wanted it to be memorable.
On Thursday night at Nat Bailey Stadium for the first game of the best-of-three Northwest League championship series against the Boise Hawks, the defending 2011 champs from Vancouver turned a tired, hapless early performance into one of the most satisfying and deserving wins of the season.
The C’s erased a 1-7 deficit and scored nine unanswered runs to finally defeated the Hawks 10-7 to the delight of the remaining 3,845 fans who stayed until nearly 11 p.m. for the three hour, 48 minute slugfest.
All that and the price of admission didn’t go up in the post-season.
Game 2 and Game 3, if needed, will be played Saturday and Sunday at Memorial Stadium in Boise.
Trailing 7-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the C’s started to show signs of life just as Boise began to come apart. Christian Lopes singled off a fly ball to left field then Carlos Ramirez was walked by Boise’s third pitcher on the night who was immediately replaced by another.
Entering the game with a .714 batting average in two playoff games, Jorge Flores doubled and brought in two to score on excellent base running. The C’s trailed Boise by four.
“That made it 7-3 and put us within striking distance,” said Vancouver manager Clayton McCullough.
Their next turn at bat utterly rewrote the game.
Balbino Fuenmayor, a crowd pleaser with a .282 batting average this season, singled on a line drive to left field. Then Art Charles cracked a home run to bring the C’s within two runs of the Hawks. The Hawks pitching continued to deteriorate.
“After that it was kind of a snowball effect for us,” said McCullough. “We did enough good things towards the end of the game to pull out.”
With one out and no runners on base, Lopes’ line drive was bobbled by the Hawks third baseman and the C’s batter slid safely into first. He was thrown out a play later but Ramirez gave the crowd a reason to cheer when he stole second. On a line drive to centre field off the bat of Tucker Frawley, Ramirez rounded third to score.
Boise’s infield racked up a fourth error and suddenly the C’s had loaded the bases with Kellen Sweeney, one of 11 batters in an inning that lasted almost 30 minutes, at the plate. He walked, bringing Frawley in for the tying run.
The C’s had erased a six-run deficit and the bases were still loaded.
Fuenmayor’s single, two-run crack gave Vancouver the 9-7 lead they would not relinquish.
The defining moment of the night seemed to come much earlier, in the bottom of the fourth inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, three C’s batters went down swinging and were unable to advance a single runner to score. The next inning, the Hawks loaded the bases, and scored consistently to lead the C’s by four.
Even before that, the C’s trailed by one in the second inning and threatened to take the lead. They were denied on a play booed loudly by fans. On a stand-up double off the bat of Ramirez, Charles scored but Newman was out at home and his protests weren’t going to change the fact that the Boise catcher blocked the plate and Newman never touched it although he beat the ball. The fans didn’t like it and the score stayed tied at 1-1.
The crowd began to thin but anyone who left would have missed a baseball game that brought just about every element the sport has to offer.
The game didn’t turn on these missed opportunities. The C’s hung around and the mood in the dugout was not one of defeatist pessimism, said McCullough, who agreed the Canadians played dreadfully early on.
“We weren't playing well. It certainly wasn't our finest moment in this type of setting. But you know what? You'd rather have it happen early in the game when you have a chance to rebound and come back. It's a new experience for a lot of these guys and sometimes you get wrapped up in it and you don't play your game.”
The team didn’t admit defeat, he said.
“We just needed something big to happen for us, one or two big hits to get us back in the game. Once we got them, I think that loosened everybody up, got everybody relaxed and saying, 'You know, we can do this.' Hopefully it will give us a lot of confidence going into the weekend.”
Javier Avendano started the game. Eric Brown, a former UBC student, was credited with the win.