About Face: Sacramento Walks-Off A Winner

SACRAMENTO, CA - After suffering two heart-breaking, walk-off losses to the Salt Lake Bees on the road earlier in their PCL Divisional Series, the Sacramento River Cats turned the tables on the Bees on Saturday night. Danny Putnam crushed a three-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th to even the series. We have full coverage of the game inside.

Facing elimination for a second consecutive evening, the Sacramento River Cats overcame a 3-0 deficit and survived extra-innings to beat the Salt Lake Bees in 10 innings by a score of 7-4. Outfielders Danny Putnam and Nick Blasi each had two-homer games, as the River Cats continued their power surge in this playoff series. Sacramento will square-off versus Salt Lake in a decisive Game Five on Sunday at Raley Field at 1:05 p.m.

Putnam's second homerun was a three-run, walk-off blast to straightaway centerfield in the bottom of the 10th that gave the River Cats a thrilling walk-off win. It was the third game out of the four in the series to be decided on a walk-off hit.

"We had to watch a walk-off base-hit in their place. We know what that feels like now," Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco said after the game.

"Guys know what is at stake. We have a great feeling in this clubhouse right now."

The bottom of the 10th began with second baseman Kevin Melillo putting together an outstanding at-bat to draw a lead-off walk. Melillo then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Gregorio Petit. DH J.D. Closser then walked on four pitches, setting up Putnam for his fateful at-bat. The Stanford grad worked the count to 3-1 against Salt Lake reliever Greg Jones. Looking fastball, Putnam got one to his liking and crushed it well over the wall in centerfield.

"I knew that he didn't want to walk me so I was looking for a good pitch to hit. I have been working really hard and I have been feeling better at the plate. I don't think I've ever had a walk-off homerun before. I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling," Putnam said.

Putnam has made it a habit during his professional baseball career of coming up with big hits in the playoffs.

"I have always loved the end of the year and, for some reason, I have always loved the playoffs. I have been fortunate to be in the playoffs in every year that I have been in pro ball, plus in college I played in a number of big situations with the College World Series," Putnam said.

"I don't know if the heightened awareness of big games helps me play better, but we have had a lot of guys step-up and play well in these big games. Who knows who will have the big hit for us tomorrow."

Sacramento starter Kazuhito Tadano was outstanding on Saturday. After being touched-up for three runs in the third inning, Tadano retired the next 13 batters before allowing a runner to reach on an error in the eighth inning.

Tadano used an array of off-speed pitches to go 7.1 strong innings. He allowed three earned runs (four total), while striking out nine and not walking a batter. The righty's effort helped bolster a tired River Cats' bullpen, which had to throw a lot of innings during the first two games of this best-of-five series.

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the third, the River Cats needed a spark and they got one right away off of the red-hot bat of Putnam. Closser drew a walk from Salt Lake starter Jonathan Rouwenhorst to start the third. Closser was followed by Putnam, who blasted an opposite field, two-run homerun to narrow the gap to 3-2. Blasi then followed Putnam with a homerun of his own to even the game at 3-3.

Sacramento would use the long-ball again in the fifth inning to take the lead. Blasi led-off the fifth with a long homerun to left-center. It was his second homerun of the game. He finished the game with three hits and two RBI and is batting a heady .526 for the series.

The River Cats held the one-run lead into the eighth inning, as Tadano got into a good grove. That groove was interrupted with one-out in the eighth, however, when Petit – who had an otherwise outstanding defensive game – committed a fielding error on a Casey Smith groundball in the hole. Smith advanced to second on a wild pitch, which was the end of the line for Tadano. Lefty Ron Flores came on with a 1-0 count to Tommy Murphy. Flores allowed a bloop base-hit to center, which scored Smith on a very close play at the plate.

With the game tied and a runner at second, DeFrancesco turned to righty Brad Ziegler. Ziegler walked the first man he faced, Mike Eylward. Murphy and Eylward then advanced to second and third on a Terry Evans ground-out to third base. With runners on second and third and two-out, Ziegler struck-out the dangerous Nick Gorneault to keep the score tied.

Ziegler would stay-on and pitch 2.2 innings of outstanding relief for the River Cats. He struck out three and didn't allow a hit, and he earned the win for Sacramento.

"Ziggy was unbelievable. He has been doing this for the last few months. The combination of Ziegler and [Jeff] Gray has been working for us and hopefully we'll get back to that soon," DeFrancesco said.

DeFrancesco indicated that Ziegler would have stayed in the game for at least one more inning had it lasted past the 10th inning. Ziegler indicated that despite throwing 43 pitches in his 2.2 innings, he had more in the tank if the team needed it.

"I definitely had at least one more inning and hopefully I can translate that into another inning tomorrow if I need it," Ziegler said. "I was feeling good out there and there were a couple of good plays behind me. It gives me confidence when they make a couple of good plays because I know I can trust my defense when they are on and they have been on all season."

Petit, in particular, made a number of nice plays in support of Ziegler. On one play, Petit charged a soft chopper that just cleared the glove of a leaping Ziegler and threw out a speedy runner with an off-balance throw to first.

"I'm not surprised at anything [Petit] does because he makes some of the most amazing plays at shortstop that I have ever seen," Ziegler said.

The River Cats didn't hit that many homeruns as a team during the regular season, but they have been hitting the long-ball at a prolific rate this post-season. Sacramento has blasted 12 homeruns in four games. Daric Barton (who had two hits and two walks in the game on Saturday) and Putnam are leading the team with three each in the series, while Lou Merloni and Blasi each have two. The trio of Putnam, Merloni and Blasi had eight homeruns total for the River Cats during the regular season and they have seven in this playoff series.

"The homerun power has been unbelievable. We really haven't had that during the season. It was just a great team effort tonight. Everyone has been contributing," DeFrancesco said.

"It's great to see the Sacramento fans come out and give us an edge. This is a great team. Even with all of the transactions, these guys come to the ballpark everyday and no matter who is in the clubhouse, they know what is at stake and this group of 24 is a really special team right now."

The decisive Game Five of the series will take place at Raley Field on Sunday. Bobby Cramer (recently promoted from Double-A Midland) will take the hill for the River Cats in his Triple-A debut. He will face another Double-A call-up, Nick Green.

"I don't really know much about [Cramer]. He's here and has been preparing [for this start]. They are going with a guy just up from Double-A, [Nick] Green, so I think it is going to be a battle of resiliency and hopefully we'll get a couple of timely hits again tomorrow," DeFrancesco said.

That Cramer has reached Triple-A this season is a remarkable feat. The left-hander began the year out of baseball, but since signing with Oakland in May, he has been outstanding. We profiled Cramer's journey back to professional ball last month.

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