By Karen Boehler
Pecos League writer
HOUSTON — Thursday afternoon’s Pecos Spring League opener was another pitcher’s duel, with Garden of Gears earning a 4-1 victory over the Vaqueros by taking advantage of Las Cruces mistakes.
“I think what won for us today was a little bit of aggression on the bases and an outstanding job on the mound and we played catch pretty good. That’s what wins games: pitching, defense and base running.”
The job on the mound was a seven-inning, six-hit performance by Jeremiah Steinert, a former Santa Fe Fuego looking to earn his way back to the Pecos League. Steinert only allowed one Vaquero run.
That came in the fifth when Blake Babnick led off with a single and Ephraim Garcia Jr. doubled him in.
That made the game 2-1 after the Gears scored in the first on double by Kyle Zimmerman — the second time in two games a ball fell in the middle of three Las Cruces fielders — a wild pitch by Vaquero starter Jeff Goulet and an RBI groundout by Brennan May.
The second and third went quickly on both sides, then, in the top of the fourth, Garden of Gears made it 2-0 when Mark Heil walked, stole second and third and came home on an error by the catcher.
The Vaqueros thought they had closed the gap to one when Carl Johnson hit the first pitch in the bottom of the fifth hard to left field. Johnson seemed to think it had gone over the fence and started into his home-run trot. But the left fielder was signaling foul, and after the home-plate umpire admitted he lost the ball in the high Texas sky, he ruled foul, and Johnson just had a long strike.
Las Cruces did close the gap in the fifth with their one run, but the Phoenix squad came back in the top of the sixth when pinch hitter Kyeong Kim, from South Korea, walked, stole second on a contested call, then came home on a single by D.J. Johnson, who went to second on a bobble by the right fielder and scored when Sean Rocky reached on a two-base error.
For Vaqueros coach Casey Dill, the difference was his team’s mistakes.
“Like I told my guys, the way their three runs scored, one, there was a pop fly that went 200 feet in the air and didn’t get caught. Two, we walked a guy then threw the ball into left field and three, there was a bunt where our first baseman prematurely tossed the ball to the pitcher and he couldn’t get to it. So when that stuff happens, I call that beating ourselves. There were three plays that we should have made that we didn’t, and they exploited us on it. They did what we did yesterday and took advantage of our mistakes.”
“We’re very aggressive,” Moore agreed. “I was talking about it in the first inning. Our guy hits a little nubber over here and they don’t catch it and he’s on second base, which that’s how you’re supposed to play. And then he gets to third on a passed ball and our guy didn’t hit a ball hard, but it’s hard enough to get him home from third base. We kind of built off of that.”
They had to, because the three Vaquero pitchers — Goulet, Austin Carden and Brandon Brown — allowed only three Gears hits.
“Our team’s resilient and we come out here and play hard,” Dill said. “There’s no team in the history of baseball that wins every game, but we never quit. We kept on fighting to the very end and we had a shot to win it there at the end. We were a home run away or a couple of base hits away from being right there. Yeah, we lost. We could have done so9me things better but we’re going to come back out on Saturday just as confident and ready to play baseball.”
Both teams have a day free from competition Friday — although most will be working out — then get back to action Saturday in a two game set at Coastal Ballpark beginning at 10 a.m.