Once Omaha stopped hitting into 6-4-3 double plays, the Storm Chasers rallied for two late runs to beat Salt Lake 3-2 Wednesday in the completion of Game 1 of the PCL championship series.
After hitting into double plays in four consecutive innings, the Chasers tied the game with a run in the seventh on Manny Pina’s RBI double, then moved ahead in the eighth on Ben Broussard’s run-scoring single.
“We put the bat on the ball well, but they made some great plays and kept stopping our rallies,” Broussard said. “But our pitchers kept us in the game. Typical playoff game — close, good defense. I’m just glad we came out on top.”
Broussard put the Chasers on top by lining a Dustin Richardson pitch into left center field, scoring Irving Falu from second base, easily ahead of the off-target throw of Scott Cousins.
Falu had led off the inning with his third single of the game and moved to second on Christian Colon’s second sacrifice of the game.
After falling behind the switch-hitting Anthony Seratelli three-balls, no-strikes, the left-handed Richardson issued an intentional walk to get to the left-handed hitting Broussard and set up another potential double play.
The situation was a repeat of the sixth inning, with the exception of Seratelli drawing an unintentional walk in the sixth. Broussard hit into an inning-ending double play in the sixth.
“That’s the situation you want to be in — especially where I’m at in the lineup, having Telly in front of me,” said Broussard, the Omaha cleanup hitter. “ It’s great when they pitch around him or walk him and want to face me and I’m able to stick to my plan, get a mistake and hit it somewhere that they can’t catch it.”
Game 2 of the best-of-5 series was scheduled for later Wednesday night. Game 1 had been suspended Tuesday night because of rain after 1-1/2 innings.
Omaha had nearly taken the lead with its two-out, seventh-inning rally.
“We had some clutch hitting to get us through that game,” Omaha manager Mike Jirschele said.
Rey Navarro singled for his second hit, then scored on Pina’s double into the left field corner. Paulo Orlando followed with a single up the middle, but Cousins threw Pina out at the plate — Pina tried sliding wide and then reaching back to touch the plate but was tagged on the shoulder.
Jirschele argued the out call by home plate umpire Gerard Ascani to no avail.
But Omaha bounced back in the eighth, improving to 4-0 in playoff games and running its winning streak to six.
“Even when we’re down, you can feel it in the dugout that we know we’re going to come back,” Broussard said. “Close plays, things that can go either way … it doesn’t defeat us. We keep coming back and putting ourselves in position — and that’s all you can do in the playoffs, keep putting yourself in position.”
Salt Lake’s Luis Rodriguez led off the fourth inning with a tie-breaking homer off Clayton Mortensen, the only blemish on a strong performance from the Omaha right-hander.
Mortensen started the second inning and worked five innings, allowing one run on two hits while walking two and striking out a season-high eight.
Buddy Baumann pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the win, and Michael Mariot extended his streak of innings without allowing an earned run to 25 by pitching the ninth to pick up the save.
Salt Lake didn’t have a hit for the final five innings.
The first of the twin-killings started by shortstop Tommy Field was particularly spectacular — he dove to his left to take a hit away from Colon, flipped the ball to second baseman Matt Long while on his stomach, and then Long caught the ball bare-handed and threw to first.
So Jirschele had Colon — the PCL leader during the regular season with 15 sacrifice bunts — drop one down after Falu led off the sixth with a single. It was maybe a bit unusual, considering Omaha trailed 2-1 at the time.
“I just felt like we had to get runners in scoring position from the sixth inning on,” Jirschele said. “I was sick of hitting into double plays.”
Broussard hit a ball towards the third base-shortstop hole, but Field got to it and turned it into another double play.
It was a different story in the eighth, though. Broussard capped a 3-for-4 with his single.
One big factor in Broussard’s favor: he hit .362 (though in just 47 at-bats) against left-handed pitchers during the regular season.
“I’ve never really tried to look at it like they’re any different,” Broussard said. “I just try to go up there and have an approach based on what a guy throws and then sticking with it.”
Before Tuesday’s rain, Omaha scored a first-inning run as Colon was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Broussard’s two-out single up the middle off Matt Shoemaker.
Salt Lake scored a second-inning run as Efren Navarro hit a leadoff single, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a ground out, and then scored on an infield single by Rusty Ryal.