The battle of first place teams in the second half was everything it was cracked up to be… especially for East Texas Pump Jacks fans.
Abel Gonzales allowed one hit in three otherwise perfect innings of relief and the Pump Jacks scored twice in the top of the ninth to complete a come-from-behind 3-1 win over the Brazos Valley Bombers Saturday night in Bryan.
The final regular-season meeting between the two rivals had playoff seeding implications, as the winner would hold the tie-breaker advantage if the two teams ended in a tie for the second-half championship.
East Texas entered the contest with the most extra-base hits of any Texas Collegiate League team, and while Zac Fisher doubled twice, the winning runs came as a result of the other team specialties, speed and small ball.
Both teams scored just once in the first eight innings, setting up the potential for extra innings. The Pump Jacks, though, decided to end the game in regulation.
Michael Haynes poked a single to left field to open the ninth inning. Chase Graskewicz squared up and laid down a bunt on the first base side. The ball trickled inches foul, but before Bombers first baseman Wes Patterson could pick it up, the ball hit a pebble and shot back into fair territory. Graskewicz was safe at first, Haynes stood at second and, with no outs, the Jacks were in business.
Jesse Santo followed with another sacrifice bunt attempt, which was fielded in front of the mound by Brazos Valley closer Matt Passauer. His throw pulled Patterson off the bag at first, leaving the Pump Jacks with the bases loaded and no outs.
Brazos Valley brought the infield in, trying to cut down the lead run at the plate. But Blake Ellender’s hard bouncer went off the second baseman’s glove, scoring Haynes for the 2-1 lead. The Bombers did manage to throw out Santo behind the play at second for the first out of the inning.
Ellender broke for second base a few pitches later, eliciting a wild throw from the Bombers’ catcher. Ellender made his way to third on the errant throw, while Graskewicz trotted home for the final margin of victory.
Early on it was evident the night would be a pitcher’s duel. Brazos Valley’s Brannon Easterling scattered 10 East Texas hits over eight innings, repeatedly pitching out of trouble with runners in scoring position.
Fisher’s pair of two-baggers were the only extra-base hits for the Pump Jacks, but the second drove in Matt Carvutto to tie the score in the sixth inning. The two doubles moved Fisher ahead of Patterson for the TCL lead in that category, and he regained sole possession of the RBI lead by bringing in Carvutto.
While Easterling was working around trouble, Miguel Pena was working his fastball, changeup and pickoff move to set down the Bombers.
Pena worked six innings in his longest appearance for the Jacks, striking out five hitters and allowing five hits and three walks.
The only damage done against Pena was a solo home run by Patterson in the fourth inning. Pena gave up a hit to the next batter, but a few pitches later Pena fooled the runner and picked him off. He also picked off two straight runners at first base to end the fifth frame.
Gonzales, normally a starting pitcher, was used in relief due to the importance of the game. He came on to start the seventh inning and didn’t allow a runner until a one-out double in the ninth. Gonzales whiffed three of the ten hitters he faced en route to his team-leading fifth win of the season.
The win gives the Pump Jacks a 12-5 record in the second half, while the loss slipped the Bombers to third place. The Victoria Generals, who captured the first-half title, are now in second place, one game behind the Jacks. The Bombers are a game-and-a-half out.
East Texas is in an excellent position to secure at least a wild card berth in the postseason. The Pump Jacks hold a six-game cushion in the race for one of two wild card spots if the division title doesn’t come to fruition.
The Jacks are aiming for their third straight appearance in the TCL playoffs since joining the league in 2008.
Sunday night, the Pump Jacks return home to host Alexandria at historic Driller Park for the final theGOspot.com Deal of the Week of the regular season. To mark the occasion, theGOspot.com and the Jacks are offering their best deal of the season: Kids can attend the game for FREE. Yes, we’ll say it again: FOR FREE!
All children 12 years of age and under may receive a free ticket for the Pump Jacks game Sunday night. Simply visit theGOspot.com and download your coupon for a free ticket. To receive your free children’s ticket, present the coupon at the Pump Jacks office at 1100 Stone Road, Suite 120, in Kilgore, or at the ticket office at historic Driller Park prior to Sunday’s game.
The week will also see the Pump Jacks open the gates for a doubleheader on Thirsty Thursday (August 5) before the fifth and final Fireworks Friday of the season on August 6. And look for a special announcement soon about Fan Appreciation Night!
Pump Jacks Nation is now on Facebook! Visit the East Texas Pump Jacks official team page on Facebook to follow all the news and gossip about the Pump Jacks, post your thoughts on the Jacks 2010 season, upload photos, and interact with other fans. Plus, the Jacks will post specials and discounts just for the Facebook community on the page! Click the link on the left side of the Pump Jacks web site or at the top of every news article on the site, and join Pump Jacks Nation on Facebook!
To follow all Pump Jacks news, including player awards, game stories and promotions, log on to the team’s official Website at www.pumpjacksbaseball.com.