Things were going so smoothly for the Las Vegas 51s on Friday night at Cashman Field.
A 3-0 first-inning deficit to Sacramento had turned into a 4-4 tie after five innings, starting pitcher B.J. LaMura yielded the ball to reliever Jerome Williams, and a calm fell over the 51s crowd.
The calm before the storm.
The River Cats pounded eight hits across the next three innings, building a five-run lead that ended in a 9-5 victory in the opener of a four-game Pacific Coast League series.
"We got behind early, made a nice little comeback, but our bullpen just wasn’t very good tonight," Las Vegas manager Lorenzo Bundy said. "They had a tough night tonight putting up zeros, and that’s what happens."
The win was an important one for the River Cats (68-51), leaders of the PCL’s Pacific Conference Southern Division. Sacramento increased its lead over second-place Las Vegas (63-57) to 51/2 games.
The River Cats had a knack for starting things with a bang. In each of the team’s multiple-run innings, a Sacramento batter led off with an extra-base hit. First, it was Donnie Murphy’s double to open the first. In the sixth, Cliff Pennington hit a leadoff triple off diving right fielder Jason Repko. In the eighth, Murphy knocked Eduardo Sierra’s first pitch over the wall in left field.
Worse for the 51s, they didn’t stem the tide.
"We talk about limiting the damage; rather than give up three runs in an inning, let’s see if we can give up one," Bundy said. "But when you’ve got so many guys swinging the bats well on the same night, it’s kind of tough.
"We weren’t able to limit their production from basically everybody."
Sacramento didn’t have the same problem with Las Vegas batters. When the 51s started to show life, they were abruptly subdued, except for the third inning, when John Lindsey and Angel Chavez hit back-to-back, two-out home runs.
With 24 games remaining — 13 on the road, 11 at Cashman Field — Bundy knows this series could determine the season.
"Coming into tonight we had 25 to go, but this is the only time we play these guys," Bundy said. "(Today’s) game, now, is a lot more important than (Friday’s) game. A split doesn’t do a lot for us — but it keeps us in the hunt.
"Realistically, we need three out of four."
• NOTES — The Dodgers released second baseman Kevin Howard after he batted .257 in 60 games for the 51s. Howard missed more than 50 games with a sprained medial collateral ligament. … The 51s activated infielder Rex Rundgren from the disabled list in an unrelated move. … The game was delayed nearly 15 minutes after an errant pitch hit plate umpire John Brammer in the head. The game continued with only two umpires. … River Cats outfielder Eric Patterson was scratched from the game after being hit in the head with a ball during batting practice. … The 51s are honoring Las Vegas resident Dick Williams tonight for his recent induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Williams managed six teams over 21 years in the majors, leading the Oakland Athletics to World Series titles in 1972 and 1973.
Contact reporter Jon Gold at jgold@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0264.SACRAMENTO — 9 LAS VEGAS — 5 KEY: The River Cats’ first three batters combined for nine of the team’s 16 hits and scored seven runs. NEXT: River Cats (Kirk Saarloos) at 51s (Miguel Pinango), 7:05 p.m. today