Furious Fifth Inning Propels Pippins to Sweep
YAKIMA, Wash. – Trailing 2-0 and having collected just a single hit entering the bottom of the fifth inning on Monday night, the Yakima Valley Pippins understood what was at stake in their final regular season home game of the season. With a brutal six-game season-ending road trip ahead, the team could ill afford to let an opportunity to sweep a crucial home series slip by the wayside. Seizing the moment in front of a raucous home crowd of 1,767 at Yakima County Stadium, the Pippins plated six runs in the fifth inning and then used a dominant bullpen effort late, en route to a 7-5 victory over the Port Angeles Lefties as they swept the series and moved to within a game in the WCL South second half standings.
Early on, the game featured a pitcher’s duel between Pippins’ starter, A.J. Landis (Colorado Mesa) and Port Angeles right-hander, Trayson Kubo (Stephen F. Austin), with both throwing four scoreless frame to begin the game. Kubo worked around a pair of two out walks in the first inning while Landis evaded a bases loaded jam in the fourth.
It was in the fifth inning that the Lefties (16-33, 6-16) took their first lead of the series, as they plated a pair of runs on two consecutive doubles off Landis for a 2-0 lead.
The Pippins (25-23, 12-9), who had collected just one hit until the bottom of the fifth inning, quickly responded against Kubo, as they loaded the bases with one out after Mitch Ellis (Western Illinois) was hit by a pitch before Tyler Bosetti (Nevada) and Steve Sordahl (St. Martin’s) both walked. Tora Otsuka (San Diego) then blooped a single into left-center to plate Ellis and halve the deficit at 2-1. With the bases still loaded and two outs after a groundout, Lucas Denney (Seattle U) and the Pippins caught a break when his groundball was bobbled by the Port Angeles shortstop, allowing everyone to reach base safely and to tie the game at 2. The next batter, Brad Beesley (Cal Poly-SLO) gave the Pippins their first hit in the frame, a single through the right side, to plate two runs and give the Pippins their first lead of the night at 4-2. After a wild pitch scored another run, Ellis, batting for the second time in the frame, singled to right field to plate Beesley for the sixth run of the inning to give the Pippins a 6-2 lead.
Despite the blown lead, Port Angeles stayed composed in the sixth inning and plated three runs, while taking advantage of four Pippins errors, to cut the deficit to one at 6-5.
The score stayed that way until the bottom of the eighth, when the Pippins threatened once more. After Bosetti began the frame with a single, Sordahl walked, allowing Otsuka to bunt both runners into scoring position. Jonny DeLuca (Oregon) proceeded to hit a sacrifice fly into deep left-center to plate Sordahl for a crucial insurance run that gave the Pippins a 7-5 lead.
The tremendous bullpen combination of Pete Minella (Western Illinois) and Connor White (Portland) did the job again, as Minella worked a scoreless eighth before handing the ball of to White who earned his ninth save of the season to preserve the 7-5 as the Pippins completed the sweep.
Game Notes: Landis, who allowed two runs over five innings while scattering seven hits earned his third win to even up his record at 3-3. The five-inning outing was his shortest of the season and the first time he has gone less than six innings in a start since June 25 against Gresham, when he lasted 5 1/3 innings. Minella, making his 11th appearance, did not allow a run over 1 1/3 innings of work and has still allowed just three earned runs in 23 2/3 innings pitched this season. In earning his ninth save, White tied the WCL lead, which he now shares with Victoria’s Travis Kuhn. White worked a scoreless ninth inning and has not allowed an earned run in his last ten appearances, which ranges over his last 12 1/3 innings worked, the longest streak by a Pippins pitcher this season. He last allowed a run on July 1 against Kelowna.
Kubo, who held the Pippins scoreless and to just one hit through four innings, ended up allowing six runs (one earned) and could not get the third out in the fifth inning, as he took the loss to fall to 1-4.
With his single in the fifth inning, Otsuka has now reached base in 23 consecutive games dating back to June 29 against Bend, which ranks as the second longest active streak in the WCL. He has hit safely in all but three games over that span and is currently riding a nine game hitting streak. With his single in the fifth inning, Ellis drove in a run for the fifth consecutive game, his longest such streak this season. The streak is especially impressive given that he drove in just four runs in his prior 13 games.
The sweep was the Pippins’ third of the season, all of which have come at home. They had previously swept Bend from June 27 to 29 and Wenatchee right after the All-Star break from July 19 to 21. The Pippins also finish the season with a 17-10 home record, matching their best single-season mark set back in their inaugural season of 2014. With the win, the Pippins are now two games above .500 overall at 25-23 and three games above .500 in the second half, both of which for the first time in 2017. The comeback win was Pippins’ 12th of the season.
What It Means: With the win, the Pippins moved to within a game of both Cowlitz and Corvallis in the WCL South second half standings, the two teams they will play in their upcoming season-ending six-game road trip. The Pippins are also now a game ahead of Cowlitz overall, an important distinction for tiebreaker scenarios if Corvallis is to take the second half after also winning the first half.
With the loss, Port Angeles has now dropped eight in a row, the longest losing streak in the WCL this season, surpassing Cowlitz’s seven game skid from June 26 to July 3. The Lefties have already been eliminated from playoff contention and sit 6.5 games back with five left to play in their inaugural season.
The series was the only meeting of the season between the two teams as the Pippins will not travel to Civic Field in 2017.
What’s Next: Port Angeles will have an off day before traveling to Gresham for a three-game series beginning on Wednesday before returning home to finish their regular season in a two-game set with Victoria.
The Pippins began a crucial six-game road trip that will decide their playoff fate on Tuesday night in Longview as they take on the Cowlitz Black Bears. Pippins right-hander, Taylor Dollard (Cal Poly-SLO, 5-0, 2.55 ERA) is set to make his fifth start for the Pippins after he was pushed back from his originally scheduled start on Sunday. Dollard lasted just two innings last time out on July 24 against Corvallis while dealing with a blister on his throwing hand.
First pitch for the series opener is set for 6:35 p.m. from Story Field.
ABOUT THE PIPPINS: The Yakima Valley Pippins compete in the West Coast League, one of the nation’s premier summer collegiate wood bat leagues. The Pippins play their home games at Yakima County Stadium (“The Orchard”) in Yakima, Washington. After winning 96 games during their first three seasons in the WCL, the Pippins set the mark as the winningest WCL expansion team after three years, and won their 100th game on June 13, 2017, to become the third-fastest WCL franchise to reach 100 wins. Yakima County Stadium recently played host to the 2017 West Coast League All-Star Game and includes an extensive 31-game home season for Year No. 4 of Pippins' Baseball in 2017. Read more online at PippinsBaseball.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube with #ThatWasAwesome.