Sam Miller, Special Assistant to the GM, Scouting
It’s clear early in this season that the Stompers can hit, and pitch, and field, and steal, and rip off the sort of hot streak that leaves the rest of the league five games back two weeks in. What wasn’t clear was whether they could do the one thing that every team, even every great team, must: Bounce back from adversity.
And now we know.
After two close, hard-fought losses to Pittsburg and Vallejo, the Stompers went into Saturday’s game looking to avoid their first losing streak of the season. They fell behind, then further behind, and before the twilight shadows had even reached the field Sonoma was down 7-2. Vallejo’s starting pitcher Nick Flory was painting corners in the middle innings, slowly expanding the strike zone and repeatedly enticing Stompers to take fastball hacks against off-speed finesse. Through six, he had allowed just the two early runs on a wind-aided home run by Mark Hurley, striking out five and walking just one. And that’s when Sonoma’s thunder struck.
With one out in the seventh, Sergio Miranda and Gered Mochizuki put together back-to-back doubles; Joel Carranza and Isaac Wenrich followed with back-to-back home runs, and in a five-minute spree the Stompers had cut the lead from five to one—and knocked the beguiling Flory out of the game.
By that point, the Stompers starter Mike Jackson, Jr. was also in the showers, having fought through five innings. While the converted reliever wasn’t as sharp as he had been in his first two starts, he also wasn’t as bad as his final line (seven runs, four earned, on 12 hits) appeared. Many of those hits were aided by a thick Vallejo infield surface, which restrained groundballs so tightly that quality pitches were turning into timid infield singles. (No such excuse exists for allowing P.J. Phillips’ long third-inning home run, however.)
Jackson gave way to lefty Paul Hvozdovic, who rebuffed the Admirals’ assault and kept the lead at five—then, after the Stompers’ seventh-inning rally narrowed the gap, to one.
Meanwhile, after Flory left, the Admirals turned to Josh Evans, a hard-throwing right-hander who had struck out 17 batters in 11 innings and allowed just one run on the year. The previous night, Vallejo’s power bullpen shut down the Stompers, but against Evans Sonoma rallied: Matt Hibbert doubled and Fehlandt Lentini did, too, tying the game. An error at first base put runners at the corners, and, with one out, Gered Mochizuki grounded to second base. That thick infield again claimed its toll, slowing the ball enough that Vallejo couldn’t turn an inning-ending double play. Mochizuki beat the relay to first while Lentini crossed the plate.
Hvozdovic returned to the mound and held the Admirals scoreless once more, striking out Glenn Walker with the tying run in scoring position. Hvozdovic stomped off the mound in triumph, having struck out four while allowing only one baserunner.
The only sour mark came when Kristian Gayday, in a race against Flory to first base, lunged for the base and landed with awkward force. He crumpled to the ground and writhed in pain for more than a minute. He was able to leave the field unassisted a couple minutes later, with a limp but some optimism that the injury will be no worse than day-to-day.
Saturday was not the first time Sonoma has trailed big this year, and it was not the first time they back, either. The Stompers trailed Pittsburg 9-2 in the season’s first series and won, 10-9. They trailed San Rafael 5-0 last weekend and won. And, on Saturday, they completed the tour of the league’s bullpens, rallying from five down against Vallejo. It’s as though they’re touring the region and spray painting their message: No Lead Is Safe.
In the most literal sense, the explanation for their ability to comeback is obvious: They have a deep lineup that puts sustained pressure on pitchers; they have power and speed, patience and aggression, and no matter what sort of pitcher they’re facing they have a solution in the lineup who matches up well. And they have an extremely powerful bullpen, one that confidently shuts down offenses for half-games at a time, a five-man unit that, after Saturday’s game, has thrown a cumulative 46 innings and allowed just seven runs—a 1.39 ERA.
But maybe the most important factor, and the most daunting one for the rest of the Pacific Association, is simply this: When they take a punch, they spring right back up. For league rivals looking for Sonoma’s weakness this year, cross one possibility off the list: This team knows how to bounce back from adversity.