51s bullpen fails to close clincher

The timing couldn’t have been worse Friday night for Justin Hampson to receive the 51s’ season award for most valuable pitcher.

Hampson, who leads the Pacific Coast League with 63 appearances, was presented the award on the field moments after blowing the game that would have clinched a playoff spot for Las Vegas.

Instead, the 51s suffered a stunning 3-1 loss to Tucson at Cashman Field.

“It’s kind of bittersweet to blow the game and get an award for something,” Hampson said. “Hopefully we wrap this thing up (today) or the next day and I get out there and get some people out this time.”

The 51s led 1-0 with one out in the ninth when Hampson gave up a tying RBI single to Dean Anna, the PCL’s leading hitter (.334). The veteran journeyman left-hander then served up a tiebreaking, two-run homer to Mike Wilson.

“I left some balls up tonight and they did what they’re supposed to do,” said Hampson, 33. “You’ve got to get the ball down always, especially here. I made a mistake to Wilson. I left the curveball up to both (Wilson and Anna).”

Las Vegas (80-61) leads Sacramento (78-63) — which lost 7-1 to Tacoma — by two games in the Pacific South Division with three to play. With their magic number down to one, the 51s can clinch their first playoff berth in 12 years today with a win or River Cats loss.

“I’m not even worried about (Sacramento),” Las Vegas manager Wally Backman said. “We’ve played very well at the end of the season. We’ve had tough losses like that before and bounced back.

“I know these guys are definitely capable of bouncing back.”

A crowd of 8,190 was treated to a pitchers’ duel most of the way between 51s starter Rafael Montero and former Las Vegas right-hander Sean O’Sullivan (8-5) — who allowed a run on six hits in eight innings for Tucson (75-66).

Montero (5-4) scattered three hits and a walk and had eight strikeouts in 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Tim Byrdak and Greg Burke combined for 1 2/3 perfect innings before Hampson (6-4) blew his eighth save and suffered his fourth loss.

Brad Boxberger struck out the side, looking, in order in the ninth.

“It’s a tough loss. Montero pitched a great ballgame,” Backman said. “Hampson has done a great job all year. He just had a rough night tonight.”

The 51s went ahead 1-0 in the fifth, when Juan Centeno hit a one-out single, took second on a sacrifice bunt by Montero and scored on an RBI single by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had two of Las Vegas’ six hits.

■\u2007NOTES — A few days after the 51s were snubbed by the All-PCL team, Backman was denied PCL Manager of the Year honors, which went instead to Salt Lake’s Keith Johnson. “It doesn’t matter,” Backman said. “Congrats to him.” Johnson, who was voted the league’s top skipper by 16 managers and media representatives from each PCL city, guided the Bees (78-63) to the Pacific North Division title. … Utilityman Eric Campbell was named the 51s’ Most Valuable Player and infielder Wilmer Flores received the Mayor’s Trophy — which is the MVP award as voted by the fans. Catcher Kai Gronauer received the community service award.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.