Averaging almost seven runs per game, the Reno Aces on Saturday night were an offensive tidal wave waiting to happen.
Three 51s relief pitchers managed to batten down the hatches for five innings before the Las Vegas boat capsized in a deluge of hits and runs.
The league-leading Aces scored three times in the sixth and five times in the seventh. Combined with seven shutout innings from well-traveled Aaron Laffey, the sudden swell turned what had been a scoreless deadlock into an easy 8-0 victory for the home team at Greater Nevada Field.
“It was a real good ballgame all the way until the sixth until we made some (pitching) mistakes against a good-hitting ballclub,” 51s manager Pedro Lopez said after his team, mired in last place in the PCL’s Pacific Southern division, dropped to 27-42.
With call-ups from New York having turned the series opener into a bullpen game for Las Vegas, three 51s relief pitchers were up to the task for five innings.
Logan Taylor started and went two innings before yielding to Kyle Regnault, who worked the next 2 2/3 and kept his earned-run average at 0.00 in eight appearances since being recalled from Double-A. Ben Rowen got the last out in the fifth.
The Reno bats, which produced 11 hits to Las Vegas’ five, started making noise in the sixth.
The Aces (47-26 and the PCL’s best team by percentage) scored three times off Rowen and just recalled Tim Peterson, with Rowen charged with all three runs. The hosts put it away the next time up. Hank Conger, the former Angels’ backup catcher who had hit a two-run double off Peterson in the sixth, drove in two more with a towering homer to right field off him in the seventh.
“There’s a reason why they are in first place in their division,” Lopez said about the Aces’ sudden explosion.
He was mostly referring to Reno’s .299 team batting average, but Laffey’s pitching was just as impressive. He kept the 51s guessing with an array of off-speed pitches, allowing three hits while walking one and striking out only two — a testament to his command on a balmy night before a sellout crowd.
During one stretch, Laffey retired 13 51s in a row.
“He did a real good job, pitched a really good game, give him credit,” Lopez said of the crafty left-hander, who has compiled a 25-29 record pitching for six major league teams. “He kept us off-balance, and unfortunately we couldn’t get the big hit.”
That would have been in top of the seventh.
Laffey, who pitched for the 51s during 2012 when he was a Toronto Blue Jays’ farmhand, showed signs of tiring when he walked Dominic Smith and gave up a single to Kevin Plawecki to start the inning. But Travis Taijeron popped out on a 3-0 pitch before Laffey got John Rodriguez to bounce into a fielder’s choice and retired Phillip Evans on a routine fly to center to end Las Vegas’ only serious threat.
It was only 3-0 then, and Lopez said that was turning point of the Jekyll-and-Hyde game.
But when Peterson left too many pitches in spots where the Aces could hit them hard and far, the missed opportunity in the seventh was all but forgotten.
“It’s only one ballgame,” the easy-going Lopez said afterward, and you could almost hear him sigh.
Who: 51s at Reno Aces
When: 1:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: Greater Nevada Field
Starters: Wilfred Boscan (3-3, 4.22 ERA), 51s, vs. Anthony Banda (5-4, 4.98)
Monday: Las Vegas at Reno, 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday: Las Vegas at Reno, 1:05 p.m.
Thursday: Salt Lake at Las Vegas, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Salt Lake at Las Vegas, 7:05 p.m.
It’s not hard to discern why Reno has been the class of the Pacific Coast League this season. Since dropping three of five games at Fresno to open the season, the Aces have not lost another series. The 51s won the middle two games of a four-game set at the beginning of June, but lost the fourth 4-1 and settled for a four-game split.
Contact Ron Kantowski at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.