Bullpen falters but ‘Cats walk off in the ninth

Luis Garcia strikes out 10 as ValleyCats beat Aberdeen 5-4

TROY — Drama and emotions surrounded the Tri-City ValleyCats on Saturday night as they took on the Aberdeen IronBirds at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. The ValleyCats recorded their first walk-off win of the season as Cesar Salazar hit a bases loaded single to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to propel them to a 5-4 victory in front of 3,109 fans.

The ValleyCats (12-10) started off the night well as starting pitcher Luis Garcia retired 15 of the 17 batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit until the top half of the fifth inning. He went five innings strong en route to a season high 10 strikeouts. He looked calm and composed throughout his outing as he at one point retired eight straight IronBirds (11-11) batters via strikeout.

“I felt really good,” Garcia discussing his pitching performance from last night, “I was commanding all of my pitches…every time I pitch I feel good and my confidence is up.” (translated from Spanish by Cesar Salazar).

The ValleyCats offense however didn’t get going until the fourth inning when Aberdeen starting pitcher Matt Hammonds gave up three walks and RBI singles to first baseman Alex Holderbach and left fielder Gilberto Celestino. Hammonds exited the game shortly after but the IronBirds were able to escape the inning without any further damage.

The ValleyCats added one more run in the sixth inning from a RBI single by third baseman Trey Dawson scoring second baseman Michael Wielansky to give them a 3-0 lead.

Aberdeen wouldn’t go down easily however. After Garcia left the game for the ValleyCats, R.J. Freure would make his professional debut in the sixth inning in relief.  A 2018 sixth round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh,  Freure pitched well as he notched his first career strikeout on the first batter he faced.

Aberdeen’s Cody Roberts hit a solo home run off of Freure in the seventh inning to pull the game to 3-1 but nothing more.

The top half of the eighth inning began and after two walks and a single off reliever Carlos Hiraldo, the IronBirds started packing on some runs. The IronBirds were able to take a 4-3 lead and sustain it through eight innings of play.

Last chances for the ValleyCats in the bottom half of the ninth and the inning couldn’t have started any better. A single by Celestino, an infield single by shortstop Jeremy Pena and then center fielder Alex McKenna getting hit by a pitch to load the bases up with no one out. Salazar followed that up with an RBI single off of closer Juan Echevarria to left field scoring Celestino. Pena was waved home and scored the winning run on a throwing error to home plate.

“We knew the pitcher [Echevarria] was throwing pretty good,” catcher Cesar Salazar said about his walk off hit after the game, “bases loaded, nobody out, tying run at third, I was just looking for a pitch up in the zone.”

The win last night extends the ValleyCats win streak to three games and propels them into first place in the Stedler Division as the Vermont Lake Monsters have dropped three straight. Game two of the three game series against the IronBirds will be Sunday at 5 p.m. back at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

Tri-City ValleyCats (12-10)

Garcia: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO

Freure (H, 1): 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO, 1 HR

Hiraldo (BS, 1): 1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO

Cabral (W, 1-0): 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO

Aberdeen IronBirds (11-11)

Hammonds: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO

Garcia, R: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Echevarria (L, 0-2): 2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

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