Tim Livingston, Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations
Much like they had done during most of their incredible sophomore campaign, the Sonoma Stompers found just enough late in Monday night’s Pacific Association championship game to pull even with the red-hot San Rafael Pacifics in the eighth inning.
In the end, however, the late push came up just a bit short, as the defending champion Pacifics went back-to-back seasons with a title thanks to Danny Gonzalez’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to give San Rafael a 4-3 walkoff victory over the Stompers.
The Stompers had a rough go of it in the month of August, especially over the final three weeks, where they lost 13 of 18 games and saw the Pacifics pull away from the rest of the pack with an incredible run that included eight of nine victories over Sonoma.
Thanks to their early-season dominance, the Stompers were guaranteed a spot in the championship game, but were not at the level they were in the first half due to numerous promotions to higher leagues in professional baseball throughout the second half.
That didn’t stop the Stompers from coming out and giving a fight to San Rafael. Even with their offense not being what it once was, the Stompers boasted perhaps the best set of pitchers in the league coming into Monday's title game, with staff ace Santos Saldivar getting the start and keeping San Rafael off the board early on.
Issues in the fourth stopped Saldivar’s scoreless string, as a two-run single by Chase Tucker gave San Rafael a 2-0 lead. Sonoma got a run in the top of the fifth on a wild pitch to cut the lead in half, but stranded runners at second and third to end the inning.
After Maikel Jova’s RBI double made it 3-1, the Stompers had to figure out how to get to Celson Polanco, who had been cruising outside of that bit of trouble in the fifth. They finally got through in the eighth, but not before some peculiar moves were made.
With two outs, a runner on, and Gered Mochizuki coming to the plate, the Pacifics kept Polanco in the game even with left-hander Chris Lovejoy ready to enter. Polanco walked Mochizuki on four pitches, which forced San Rafael’s hand to go to Lovejoy with consecutive right handed batters coming up.
It also didn’t hurt for Sonoma that the two batters were Mark Hurley and Andrew Parker, the team’s two best hitters against left-handed pitching. Hurley singled through the left side to make it 3-2 before Parker hit a deep drive to left-center field that bounced in front of the fence and over for a ground rule double, tying the game at 3-3.
Stompers fans and players alike argued that the ball didn’t bounce in front of the fence, but over it for a three-run homer. All three umpires came together to agree that it was a ground rule double, keeping the game tied and adding an air of controversy to the proceedings at Albert Park.
Meanwhile, Sean Conroy had been superb in his three innings of relief work after taking over for Saldivar in the sixth. The Pacifics spoiled Conroy’s scoreless streak with a leadoff walk and a sacrifice bunt, putting the tying run at second base.
After a walk to Zack Pace and a meeting on the mound, Gonzalez got a breaking ball he could handle and ripped it to left field, bringing Johnny Bekakis around for the winning run and causing the entire Pacifics dugout to spill onto the field in celebration.
It was not the ending Sonoma was looking for after such an incredible start to their season. Their 18-3 start led to them clinching the first half title with a 26-11 season, but the team went 18-21 in the second half, due mostly in part to the offense losing so many key cogs to promotion.
The team did better their 2014 win total by two in two fewer games, and now have built up a lot of confidence in bringing in good players due to the success of the players they have promoted.
While Sonoma only had five hits on the evening, Yuki Yasuda, Gered Mochizuki and Eddie Mora-Loera each walked multiple times, with the team drawing seven walks in all against Polanco.
The Stompers will now prepare for their third season in the Pacific Association next June, as Sonoma looks to build upon their successes in 2015 to make another title run in 2016.