The Albuquerque Isotopes put on a magic show Friday night.
Their starting pitcher danced out of trouble repeatedly, they overcame a massive hitting slump, saw their pitching coach get ejected and yet still ended up winning 3-1 over the Salt Lake Bees.
The victory moved Albuquerque (63-68) back to within 2 1/2 games of first-place Salt Lake (66-66).
“It’s the end of the season, we’re in the playoff hunt and this is the team we’re battling,” said reliever Austin House, who tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings. “That’s how playoff races go in professional baseball. I’ve seen my fair share of them, that’s how they go, crazy things happen.”
Starter Yency Almonte (2-1) tossed six scoreless innings even though his command was spotty at best. Double plays got him out of trouble in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
“Before you walked in I was talking about how fascinating pitching is,” manager Glenallen Hill said. “You know how a guy can seemingly be having a challenge outing and then he can relax enough in (certain) situations, execute a pitch and get rewarded for it? The double play was his friend tonight.”
Overall, the right-hander scattered three hits, four walks and a hit batsman while only striking out three.
“When you’re forcing the other team to make contact and keep the ball on the ground, good things happen,” Hill said. “That was a very good confidence builder for Almonte.”
It was a marked improvement from Almonte’s last start at Sacramento last Saturday, when he gave up six runs on five hits and two walks, failing to record an out.
“I never pitched but I can only imagine when you wait five days, didn’t get through the first inning and then you have to wait another five days, it has to be some amount of uncertainty and excitement and relief all in one after the first (inning),” Hill said. “It’s all the process of developing in this case an impactful starting pitcher at the major-league level.”
Luckily for Almonte, his teammates scored once in the first inning and twice in the second to give him a little cushion. The Bees then retired 21 straight Isotopes hitters to end the game.
Hill gave all the credit to Bees right-hander Daniel Wright (6-10), who defied his season stats.
“I think their starter did an excellent job,” Hill said. “I mean, the way he pitched is not reflective of what his record is, at least it wasn’t today. I thought that young man settled down and pitched very well.”
The other bit of luck came in the seventh inning, which started off as a near disaster. Reliever Zac Rosscup struck out Rey Navarro before giving up a single, three walks and two wild pitches. Throw in a double steal, and Salt Lake had scored a run and still had the bases loaded. The chaotic sequence of events even included pitching coach Mark Brewer getting ejected for arguing a call.
As they have done many times before this season, the Isotopes brought in House to put out the fire. He did just that, getting Eric Young Jr. to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.
“Just get a groundball, try to get out of there as quick as possible, that’s for sure,” House said of his mindset upon entering the game.
Getting Young, one of the fastest players in the league, to ground out was a challenge.
“I did know that, so I was just hoping he would make good contact right at somebody,” House said. “He’s a guy that I kind of enjoy facing, a lefty that I can throw sinkers down and away to, change speeds on him and hope I can get one in there that he rolls over on. He’s a really good hitter, so I knew he was going to be aggressive and that worked out into our game plan.”
House entered the game with a 1.88 ERA in 62 1/3 innings this year. Getting groundball outs has been his specialty.
“He is being exactly who he needs to be,” Hill said, “and it’s exciting because when you bring a guy into a situation, in a perfect world you want to bring in a guy who can induce a groundball. You try to keep that situation simple in his mind and most of the time those situations are already pretty telling in how you use a guy.”
House then gave up two harmless singles in a scoreless eighth and Carlos Estevez retired the side in order in the ninth for his fourth save.
The Isotopes and Bees will meet again Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Right-hander Matt Flemer (8-7, 5.60 ERA) gets the start against Salt Lake right-hander Osmer Morales (2-1, 3.72).