YAKIMA, Wash. - The Everett AquaSox had the right pieces in place on Wednesday night against Yakima.
They built a 5-1 lead off of Bears’ starter Chris Kinsey with staff ace Felix Hernandez on the mound.
Even after the 17-year-old gave up three runs in the fifth, he still pitched two more scoreless innings to hand a 5-4 lead off to the bullpen, with just six outs left.
The Mariners’ Short Season-A affiliate had an unblemished 24-0 record when they led after seven innings going into the game. Even better, they had the ball in the hand of Brandon Moorhead, the league leader in saves, with one out and a runner on second.
The dream scenario ended there when Moorhead allowed the runner to reach third on a wild pitch and score when RF Lino Garcia singled past a drawn-in infield to tie the game.
Moorhead escaped the eighth inning with a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play, but the ninth provided the final snare.
Moorhead didn’t record an out in the ninth as a bases-loaded hit-by-pitched sealed the Bears’ 6-5 victory.
Moorhead began the frame by walking CF Richie Barrett. He then attempted to erase his mistake as he fielded DH Conor Jackson’s come backer, but he threw low to second base allowing both runners safe passage.
3B Jamie D’Antona drew an intentional walk to set up LF Alex Frazier to take one for the team.
Moorhead may have seen his ERA decrease to 1.57, but his blown saves and losses total got significantly less round as he picked up his first in both categories.
“His command wasn’t as sharp,” Everett Manager Pedro Grifol said. “But he’ll get the ball again. And he wants the ball again.
“Brandon is our closer and, if we have a lead late on Thursday, he’ll be right back out there.”
As if losing their ninth game of the season to Yakima wasn’t enough, the Mariners announced Hernandez will finish the season with the playoff bound Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the A-level Midwest League.
In his final appearance for Everett, Hernandez inherited a scoreless game from starter Sam Hays. The first batter he faced singled up the middle, and the second reached base on a bunt Hernandez fielded and threw into the runner as he slipped.
Hernandez recovered to strike out Northwest League RBI leader Conor Jackson looking, but D’Antona singled to right-center to tie for second in the league with his 46th RBI.
Hernandez struck out the side in the fourth, but the Bears sent eight runners to the plate in the fifth to pare the AquaSox lead back to one.
Everett built the lead in the fourth off a two-run single from LF Josh Ellison, who scored on 1B Bryan LaHair’s double, and C Jorge Maduro’s two-run home run up in the stiff Yakima Valley wind and over the rightfield fence.
Since returning from Tacoma, Maduro has five hits in eight at-bats with three runs and three RBIs. Even though Maduro went hitless in 18 at-bats with the Rainiers, Grifol can see a positive change in Maduro from before he left.
“He came back with a lot of confidence,” Grifol said. “Going 0-18 really did nothing to affect him.
“He plays hard. He gives us some power. I’m really glad to see him back.”
In his absence, 2003 draftee Justin Ruchti established himself at catcher with a .289 batting average and six RBI in 11 games.
Grifol had both catchers in the lineup for the second-straight night - either behind the plate or at DH - as the AquaSox continue to deal with the staggered suspensions from last week’s brawl with Eugene.
“Both guys do a good job,” Grifol said. “I’m very pleased with our catching this season. We’ll be sure they keep getting at-bats.”
The AquaSox offense ended there as three Bears relievers allowed only two base runners over the final four innings.
Hernandez finished his five innings by retiring seven of the last eight batters he faced with three strikeouts. He gave up four runs, six hits, two walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch and racked up eight total strikeouts.
He’ll leave the NWL first in victories with seven and in the top five in ERA (2.29) and Ks (73) in just 55 innings.
He’ll join a Wisconsin team currently in next-to-last place in the second half after clinching a playoff berth in the first-half.
“I’m hoping he takes that same approach he did down here with him to Wisconsin,” Grifol said. “He’s an advanced 17-year-old pitcher. He’ll adjust to the situation and fit right in for the playoffs.”
Grifol couldn’t help but express pride in Hernandez performance and progress, even though he’s losing his best pitcher.
“This is what we’re here to do,” Grifol said. “We get to develop people and move them through the system.
“He’s got everything it takes to succeed the next level and beyond.”
Without Hernandez, Everett has 15 games left in the season, including a six-game homestand starting Thursday. The AquaSox have a 26-35 record – seven games behind first-place Salem-Keizer, who they play nine times from here to the end of the season.
James is a Central Washington University student interning for InsidethePark.com this summer. He welcomes your feedback, hints, tips or other observations at firstname.lastname@example.org. James recently used his intern status to get to see Everett AquaSox games for free and indulge on $0.25 hot dogs at Yakima County Stadium.