Last night I had the opportunity to accompany my staff and client to the beautiful Southwest University Ballpark, home of the local El Paso Chihuahuas, the AAA affiliate of the San Diego Padres. Since I was the one organizing the event, coincidentally (wink, wink) we just happened to have our gathering on a night the Las Vegas 51s were visiting for the second trip this year.
On this occasion I did not sit in the press box, but instead in the Fiesta Patio area along the right field line, reserved for our 52 guests, including a buffet down the tunnel from the private area. What's really nice about this location is that the 51s warm up directly in front of us. Consequently when I shouted out “Vic” as Vic Black walked past, he ambled over to tell me how good he's feeling and how it's so good to be pain free on the mound once again.
I saw Eric Campbell warming up next to him, at first alone, then with Travis Taijeron. Having just been demoted, he did not look like a happy camper, so I didn't try to engage him in any conversation. Kevin Plawecki was signing autographs near the dugout but passed by our area on the way out to the bullpen to catch the surprise starter for the game, Matthew Bowman. It had been posted that Logan Verrett was going to start, but I was curious to see how Bowman looked given his rocky adjustment to AAA.
Dilson Herrera was warming up quite seriously, doing more stretching exercises and sprints than anyone else. He was working with a trainer for awhile, but when he broke free I gave him a greeting in Spanish and he smiled. This time I did have both a Mets belt buckle and a fairly subtle Mets cap, so that may have accounted for some of the warm reception I got from the players.
Brandon Nimmo was working exclusively by himself. He didn't even long toss with anyone else. For a young man hitting. .300 in his first stint in AAA, he had a major scowl on his face the whole time. I made a comment about the toast 100 degree weather being quite a difference from Wyoming and he perked up a bit. Still, he didn't really seem to want to engage in any dialogue (but I also know I was intruding on warm-up time).
When the game started, it appeared that it was going to be a rarity for the PCL – a pitcher's dual. Bowman and journeyman Daniel McCutchen for the Chihuahuas were both putting goose eggs up on the scoreboard. The 51s did get three loud fly balls to the fence, so it seemed like only a matter of time until they broke through. It was Darrell Ceciliani who gave his drive a little more loft and distance, a solo home run breaking the tie midway through the game.
Unfortunately Bowman imploded for three runs, though some shoddy fielding on the infield was partially responsible. Still, with the kind of offense the 51s feature, a two-run deficit didn't seem insurmountable.
It stayed that way until the top of the ninth when Brandon Nimmo hit a drive off the right centerfield fence that went for a triple. He can really motor around the bases. He came in on a ground out and the deficit was down to a single run.
With two men out Danny Muno was sent up as a pinch hitter and he also drove a ball off the right field wall, but he only got two bases from it as he seemingly stopped to admire it or watch in hopes that it cleared the fence. Dilson Herrera who had already had two solid line drive hits in the game came up, needing just a single to tie the game, but a squib off the end of his bat resulted in the catcher nailing him at 1B for the final out.
There were some standout performances in this game. Dilson Herrera may have looked overmatched when he was up in the majors both in 2014 and 2015, but his .345 batting average is not merely the result of the PCL environment. He plays the field with great athleticism, runs everything out at full speed and shows good bat control.
Vic Black did get into the game and despite walking the leadoff batter, had an impressive stint. He struck out two of the next three batters and the runner never got any further than first. As testament to how much is ball moves, I saw Kevin Plawecki drop a couple of his pitches which was more about the motion of the ball than any defensive shortcoming on his part.
At one point Bowman loaded the bases with just one man out and struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam. He impressed me and even got some applause from the local Chihuahuas fans who recognized how he manned up when he needed to do so.
After Bowman's 3-run problem, he got into a two-out bind with a lefty coming up. Wally Backman summoned Dario Alvarez, he of the 1.12 Gibson-like ERA for a classic LOOGY situation. He got him out on a harmless fly to left.
Although Matt Reynolds didn't really do anything with the bat, he flashed some leather and a good arm more than once during the game. He did not look like the second coming of HoJo out there. He appeared capable of handling the position.
Travis Taijeron stood out but not in a good way. His propensity to get fooled by pitches out of his wheelhouse suggests he will never benefit from his prodigious power.
There was a mental breakdown between Ceciliani and Nimmo on a fly to CF. I guess since both of them came up as centerfielders, they both went for the ball, then backed off thinking the other one would get it. Neither did and what should have been a fly out became two bases for the Chihuahuas. It could have been a Mike Cameron/Carlos Beltran situation, so perhaps it's a good thing it was just two bases and no fractures.
Finally, I was fortunate enough to have a foul ball come our way, corralled by my tablemate, Mike. He gave it to me as he had gotten one at our outing last year, too.
It would have been good to see a win, but it was still a great night with friends, co-workers and the Las Vegas 51s.