HICKORY, NC -- Asheville ran into a buzzsaw named Pedro Payano on Monday evening dropping the first game of the best-of-five championship series 7-2. The Tourists were unable to mount any significant offense against the right handed pitcher who struck out eight batters in six shutout innings, scattering six hits, while not allowing a walk.
The Tourists threatened a couple of times in the game, most notably in the third and fourth innings when Tourist baserunners made critical mistakes to erase the threat. Wes Rogers drove a ball sharply down the leftfield line in the third, but was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double for the third out of the inning. Later in the fourth, Forrest Wall was caught trying to steal third base for the first out of the inning. The Tourists would have had two runners on with no outs and missed an opportunity to score as Roberto Ramos later singled in the inning.
The Crawdads went up by two after Luke Tendler's home run in the fourth. The drive cleared well over the right field wall for his 16th home run of the year. Tendler was the offensive MVP for the Crawdads as the DH went 2-for-3 with a double, two RBI and three runs scored.
The star of the game was Rangers pitching prospect Pedro Payano who displayed a dazzling drop-off-the-table changeup complimented with a low 90's fastball. The 20-year-old was signed by the Rangers out of the Dominican Republic for $650,000 and went on to spend three and a half seasons in the DSL before he was given a chance in the Arizona rookie league midway through this season. The 6'2 righty responded with a 1.55 ERA and 10.2 K/9 and was quickly promoted to Single-A where he made five starts for Hickory and has a 1.10 ERA with a 8.5 K/9.
Helmis Rodriguez opened the championship series as the starting pitcher for Asheville. The lefthander has struggled at home with a 4.52 ERA, but shined away from McCormick stadium with a 2.42 road ERA and a WHIP of 1.18 on the year. Batters struggled on the road against the lefty where he posted a .218 average against, a number which ballooned up to .286 at home.
The Tourists mounted a rally in the ninth, scoring a pair of runs. Forrest Wall singled with one out to set the table for a Shane Hoelscher home run. Selected in the 17th round of the 2014 first year player draft, Hoelscher has been a force for Asheville and the right-handed batter leads the SAL with a .318 batting average. Two more Asheville batters reached base in the ninth inning, but it was too little too late as Josh Fuentes flied out to center field to end the game.
The Tourists were able to advance to the championship round after Luis Jean hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning against Savannah on Saturday. The home run came as a surprise to his manager Warren Schaeffer who commented after the game to Milb.com.
"Jean, I think he's hit one ball out of the park in BP all year and had zero on the season during the game. The guys were loving it. It was just a huge at-bat for us."
The Tourists take on the Crawdads in Hickory for game two of the best of five series on Tuesday. Ryan Castellani (2-7, 3.52) will take the mound for Asheville and faces Hickory's lefty Brett Martin (5-6, 3.49).