Tim Livingston, Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations
Sean Conroy had made a name for himself with his pitching performances late in games as the closer for the Sonoma Stompers. Yet his best performances this season have been in starts, where he allowed only two earned runs over 17 innings. So when you find a middle ground by trying to get the team's best pitcher some innings, the role of the fireman, seldom used nowadays with specialized bullpens, seems taylor made for a guy like Conroy.
He was terrific in the role on Thursday, as he helped the Stompers hold off a late charge from the San Rafael Pacifics in an 8-6 victory, ending the game with a strikeout of the league's best hitter, Matt Chavez, in the process.
So with another game on Sunday against the Pacifics and another need for a fireman, the Stompers turned to Conroy in the fifth inning with Chavez coming to the plate and a runner on. The first pitch to Chavez? A get-me-over slider that Chavez crushed for a two-run home run. Lesson learned. You can't try and steal a strike against the most dangerous hitter in the league.
Yet even after that hiccup, the rookie right-hander settled down in a big way, working out of trouble in both the eighth and the ninth right after solo homers by Isaac Wenrich and Joel Carranza gave the Stompers the lead. On the ninth pitch to Jeremy Williams with the tying run in scoring position, one of Conroy's patented sliders got the job done, as Williams swung over the top of it to end the game and hand both the weekend series and the weeklong series to the Stompers with a 6-5 victory.
Sonoma (6-3 2nd half, 32-14 overall) saw a complete reversal of fortune this week compared to two weeks ago, when a weeklong series against the Pacifics netted them five of seven games with losses, including a week-ending doubleheader loss. Coming into the weekend, Sonoma had won only one time at Albert Park in five previous trips.
After the loss on Friday night, it was looking like more of the same for the Stompers, as San Rafael (3-6, 22-25) took care of business and sent the Stompers to an 11-4 loss. Sonoma had a much different outlook on Saturday and used a record-breaking offensive performance to even the series coming into Sunday.
Sonoma's offense was doing just fine for itself thanks to a patient approach at the plate in the early going. Against Pacifics starter Max Beatty, the Stompers waited Beatty out and kept working counts, and the second time through against Beatty, the bats woke up and brought the team back from a 2-0 deficit. Two runs in the third inning came from eight different batters that drew 44 pitches against Beatty in the inning.
They got two more in the fourth with a similar approach to take a 4-3 lead, driving Beatty from the game with 118 pitches thrown in only four innings. That was about the time where Conroy made his entrance in relief of Paul Hvozdovic. After Chavez's homer, Conroy (4-1) didn't allow another run the rest of the way, getting out of two major jams late in the game to wrap things up for Sonoma.
After Jake Taylor reached on a two-base fielding error and got moved to third with one out, Conroy had to bear down in a strikeout situation. He did exactly that, striking out Johnny Bekakis and David Kiriakos for a huge end to the eighth.
In the ninth, there's an argument that the Pacifics might have beat themselves. Zack Pace drew a leadoff walk, and with Chavez on deck, Danny Gonzalez bunted him over with a sacrifice, leaving first base open with one out. It was an easy decision for Sonoma to intentionally walk Chavez and pitch to Maikel Jova instead, taking the bat out of the team's best hitter. Jova offered at the first pitch and flew out lazily to center field for the second out, setting the stage for the showdown with Williams.
Williams had already driven in three runs on the day and kept fouling pitches off against Conroy. On a 1-2 pitch, Conroy threw one of his sliders down and away that drew a check swing from Williams that Sonoma thought should have ended the game, but was called a non-swing instead. Once the count got full, Conroy came through with a slider that Williams swung right over the top of for the strikeout, drawing a huge fist pump from Conroy and yet another game-ending hug from Wenrich.
Sonoma's offense was paced by Carranza (2-for-4, HR, 15-game hitting streak) and Wenrich (2-for-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB) with Matt Hibbert going 2-for-5 with two runs scored. Gered Mochizuki was held hitless, ending his 13-game hitting streak.
The Stompers hold a one game lead over the Pittsburg Diamonds in the second half standings, and they will begin a weeklong series with the Diamonds on Tuesday with the start of a three game series in Pittsburg. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. with the radio broadcast beginning at 6:50.