Mariners minors go perfect on Opening Day

Mark yesterday, April 7, 2005 on your calendar if you're a wild and crazy fan of the Seattle Mariners minor league system. From Triple-A Tacoma all the way down to Mid-A Wisconsin, it was an Opening Day for the ages.

Four games, four wins, three stellar outings from starting pitchers, a walk-off home run, a hit-parade and countless impressive individual performances from the organization's top prospects.

Pitchers Jorge Campillo, Bobby Livingston and Mark Lowe each put their respective teams on their backs with dominant outings.

Campillo, signed as a free agent over the offseason and dubbed the Mexican Greg Maddux, was in control from the outset, showing an ability to induce ground ball outs. He went 6.2 innings before giving way to the bullpen, and allowed only one run and one walk while striking out four. At one point, he retired 18 batters in a row.

"He was unflappable," Tacoma manager Dan Rohn told's Joe Kaiser of the righty's impressive opening day start, which led to a 6-2 Rainiers win. "He was down in the zone with all of his pitches.

"He's a lot of fun to watch pitch."

Justin Leone and Jamal Strong, two of the better older prospects in the system, contributed with good days from the plate. Leone hit the ball hard three times and appeared to be at mid-season form, his best at bat resulting in a line-drive home run to left field. Strong, still one of the fastest base-runners in the system, chipped in with three hits and a steal.

At Double-A, Livingston nearly equaled Campillo's day with six strong innings. Though he didn't factor into the decision, the Texas native showed that he could be just as effective as he was throughout the Single-A ranks. He struck out six and didn't walk a batter, allowing just one run on the night.

It was Jon Nelson, not Livingston, who provided the fireworks, however. The athletic outfielder stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning and delivered a game-winning two-run homer to send the Missions fans home happy.

"I was just thankful to get the hit," Nelson told InsidethePark's Chris Boehm after securing his team a 3-2 victory. "I'm sure he didn't want to get behind, he had already thrown two balls, so I knew he had to get something around the plate."

"That was a great win on opening night, a well-played ballgame by both teams," said Missions manager Dave Brundage to Boehm. "The fans definitely got their money's worth, the ones that stuck around."

It wasn't a pitcher's duel, but a hit-parade that allowed High-A Inland Empire to roll to its opening day victory, a 13-9 win over Bakersfield.

Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien, the team's two brightest stars, each homered in the 66ers' 15-hit effort.

"It was a pretty good first game to come out and swing the bats like we did," said 66ers skipper Daren Brown, addressing InsidethePark's Angel Almeida.

Down at Wisconsin, the star power prevailed in the Timber Rattler's 3-1 victory. Yung-Chi Chen and Matt Tuiasosopo each had a pair of hits in the Timber Rattlers victory over Peoria.

"Every night we expect to win," said Rattlers' manager Scott Steinmann to InsidethePark's Jeff Harrison. "We are going out there every day to prepare ourselves for a ‘W' every night."

The star in Wisconsin's opener wasn't a high-profile prospect quite the caliber of Chen or Tuiasosopo, rather a low-key pitcher named Mark Lowe. Lowe, a right-hander drafted in the fifth round last June, mowed down the opposition with his overpowering fastball and struck out six in six scoreless innings.

A surprise Opening Day starter, Lowe could potentially work his way up the prospect ladder with more outings like his first of 2005.

All in all, from top to bottom, Triple-A to Single-A, yesterday was a day to remember.

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