The Stockton Ports got their 2017 season off to a stirring start with a 3-1 series win over the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The Ports scored the game-winning run on a wild play in the 9th inning to earn a 2-1 victory over the Quakes on Sunday.
The series between Stockton and Rancho Cucamonga was all about pitching. On Friday, the Ports and Quakes split a double-header that had historic implications on both ends. In game one, the Ports fell two outs short of a perfect game and won, 2-0. In game two, the Ports were no-hit and lost, 4-0. On Saturday, Stockton held the Quakes to four hits in a 3-1 win. On Sunday, the theme of good pitching continued with a 2-1 Stockton win that featured a combined 10 hits between the two teams.
On Sunday, Daulton Jefferies -- the A's second-overall pick in 2016 out of Cal -- made his Stockton debut. The right-hander was sharp, mixing in his fastball, slider, change-up and cutter to keep the Quakes off-balance throughout his outing. He allowed back-to-back singles with two outs in the first inning but retired the last 10 batters he faced, finishing with four scoreless frames. Jefferies struck-out two and didn't walk a batter in front of a crowd of 2,532 on a sunny day at Banner Island Ballpark.
Rancho Cucamonga sent Dean Kremer to the mound against Jefferies and the Stockton native was just as effective as his Ports' counterpart. Kremer scattered two hits and one walk in 3.1 scoreless innings. He struck-out five.
The game was knotted at 0-0 until the fourth, when Stockton right fielder Seth Brown launched a homer onto the grass over the fence in right field. It was Brown's first homer of the year. Brown hit eight homers for Stockton last season.
Stockton held the 1-0 lead until the seventh, when Drew Jackson doubled home Ibandel Isabel. The two doubles came off of Evan Manarino, who took over for Jefferies in the fifth inning as the scheduled "second starter" for the game. Those were the only two hits Manarino would allow in his four innings. He walked one and struck-out four. The Jefferies / Manarino tandem combined to limit the Quakes to one run on four hits and one walk in eight innings.
Carlos Navas took over in the ninth and he had about as an eventful scoreless inning as a pitcher can have. The inning began when he allowed an infield hit on a soft groundball to third base off the bat of D.J. Peters. Isabel then reached on a fielding error by shortstop Eli White on a ball that could have been turned for a double-play. With runners at first and second and no outs, Quakes catcher Will Smith dropped a beautiful sacrifice bunt to the third base side. Ports' catcher Sean Murphy made a nice pick up and turn to fire to first. His throw short-hopped second baseman Josh Vidales, but Vidales made an outstanding pick to record the out at first.
The Ports intentionally walked Jackson to load the bases for Luke Raley. Raley lined a pitch to the left of Vidales at second. Vidales reacted quickly, dropping to his glove side to make an outstanding catch to save at least one run. Navas then recorded the final out on a pop-up off the bat of Ariel Sandoval.
Stockton didn't waste much time getting to work in the bottom of the ninth off Quakes' reliever Andrew Istler. Murphy started the inning with a line-drive single to left. The speedy Skye Bolt pinch-ran for Murphy and his legs were put to the test right away. Brown lined a pitch into the right-center gap. The right fielder Sandoval bobbled the ball slightly when cutting it off in the gap, allowing Bolt to take third easily. Brown decided to test Sandoval and take second base, but Sandoval recovered in time to throw Brown out at second. Bolt never broke stride coming around third, however, and as soon as the throw went to second, Bolt raced for home. The throw came home just as Bolt arrived, but he made a beautiful slide to the outside of the base, swiping the bag with his left hand before the tag was applied. That gave the Ports the walk-off win and a series victory.
Below are exclusive photos of the game. All photos are by Chris Lockard.