Betancourt's Missions Won Game No. 1 (AP)
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Thursday’s opening night game versus the Corpus Christi Hooks revolved around the celebrating of one hundred years of San Antonio Missions baseball. The scoreboard proudly displayed the magical three-digit number throughout the entire night, and special programs were given out to commemorate the date.
With 7,447 fans in attendance at Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium, it indeed was quite a celebration - for unique and spontaneous reasons.
In the bottom of the ninth, Missions left fielder Jon Nelson stepped up to the plate with the home team down 2-1 and Nate Espy on first, and delivered a thunderous two-run shot that screamed “game-winning home run” as soon as it left the bat.
And a game winner it certainly was.
“I was just thankful to get the hit,” Nelson said after securing his team a 3-2 victory. “I’m sure he didn’t want to get behind, he had already thrown two balls, so I knew he had to get something around the plate.”
Every last fan still in attendance immediately rejoiced, as Nelson’s teammates eagerly crowded around home plate to congratulate the hero after spoiling the Hooks’ inaugural game.
“That was a great win on opening night, a well-played ballgame by both teams,” said Missions manager Dave Brundage. “The fans definitely got their money’s worth, the ones that stuck around. I can’t remember the last time we had a walk-off home run here in my five years.”
Before the late night heroics, the game had taken the shape of a pitchers’ duel, as Missions starter Bobby Livingston faced off against Fernando Nieve, who last year finished the season at Round Rock with a stingy 2.17 earned run average.
Each team was held scoreless until the third inning, when Espy, getting the starting nod at first base, took a 3-2 pitch over the right-center field wall, giving the Missions a 1-0 lead.
Livingston, in his first Double-A start after spending 2004 with Inland Empire, carried a shutout into the sixth inning, allowing just one earned run while striking out six.
“He gave us exactly what we needed, six strong innings,” Brundage said. “Guys are on pitch counts early season, and he did a nice job. We also had a couple of good defensive plays that gave us momentum.”
Following a Livingston fielding error on a Charlton Jimerson bunt and stolen base, Hooks’ catcher Hector Gimenez lined a single past a diving Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop. Jimerson scored on the play as the Hooks tied the game at one run apiece.
Emiliano Fruto relieved Livingston to start the following inning, and the Hooks wasted no time attacking the Columbia native.
Left fielder Mike Rodriguez lead off the inning with a 1-1 rocket over both walls in right field, as Fruto lasted just one inning, giving up one run on three hits, giving the Hooks the lead.
A glimmer of hope surfaced for the Missions in the bottom of the eighth, when catcher Rene Rivera reached base on an error by third baseman Mark Saccomanno. After Brundage elected to send in local boy John-Austin Emmons to pinch run for Rivera, a perfect Eric Blakeley sacrifice bunt moved Emmons over.
One out later, center fielder Jaime Bubela stepped up to the plate to face new Corpus Christi pitcher Phillip Barzilla. Bubela took the count to two balls and two strikes, and fouled off a tough change-up to stay alive, but eventually went down on strikes to end the threat.
After Melvin Pizzaro worked a perfect ninth, Espy started things off in the bottom of the frame with a single to left. Two subsequent fly outs lefft the game in Nelson’s more-than-capable hands, who came to plate to make up for his previous at-bat, a three-pitch swinging strikeout.
“I did have a couple of rough at-bats, but you just learn from those,” Nelson said. “I was able to come out here with confidence, and you just want to adjust and be aggressive.”
Opening Series: The Missions will play a home game each night through the end of the weekend, facing off against the Hooks at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a final game at 4:05 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
Record Crowd: The number in attendance (7,447) was the second largest opening day crowd at the Wolff. The largest, in 1994, was the first ever opening day at the stadium, totaling over 9,000 people.
Paying Respects: Before the game, a moment of silence was held on behalf of the late Pope John Paul II, who passed away last weekend. Afterwards, students from Oak Crest Intermediate School sang the National Anthem.
For Starters: The first hit of the Missions’ 2005 season went to Betancourt, a 1-0 single into left field to leadoff the game. Hailing from Cuba, the shortstop also made a fantastic charging play on a slow roller to get an out in that crucial top of the ninth.
"Jon" of All Trades: In addition to his game-winning homer, Nelson also had a hit and a stolen base in the second inning, as well as an outfield assist in the eighth to preserve the one-run deficit.
Pitching: The Missions' rotation looks to be set. Scheduled to follow opening night starter, LHP Bobby Livingston, are RHP Juan Sandoval, LHP Thomas Oldham, LHP Nick Bourgeois, and RHP Jon Huber. Manager Dave Brundage said the young staff has shown a lot of talent and command of the strike zone early on, with Livingston exhibiting just that, throwing many first-pitch strikes throughout last night's season opener.
On Tap: Tomorrow the Missions will send 24-year-old right-hander Juan Sandoval to the mound in game two of the four game series. Sandoval spent last season in the California League with the Inland Empire 66ers, recording 11 wins and posting a 4.12 ERA in 27 starts.