The struggles hitting with runners on continued for the Storm in the second inning. They loaded the bases with nobody out thanks an error, single and walk. Mike Baxter then grounded into a sure double play but Inland Empire's shortstop bobbled the ball at second. Juan Ciriaco then grounded into a double play, scoring the second run for Lake Elsinore. Jose Lobaton then grounded out. They managed two runs but would have barely managed one with good defense.
"We talked about it last night after the game and again today but come gametime you know you are going to get your opportunities again and it is a matter of coming through and doing the job," Craig Cooper said of executing with runners in scoring position.
Facing a quick exit from the playoffs, Cory Luebke was lifted after just two-plus innings. The left-hander struggled throwing first-pitch strikes, despite fanning the side around three hits and a walk in the second. Luebke loaded the bases without recording an out in the third and was replaced quickly by manager Carlos Lezcano.
Richie Daigle gave up a single to the first batter, leaving the bases juiced, but induced a double play grounder, getting the out at home, and struck out the last batter to avert further damage.
Inland Empire scored runs in four straight frames, three coming off Daigle.
Daigle did not allow a run over five innings of playoff action last season for the Storm, surrendered two hits while fanning two.
Cooper drove in the third run of the game, singling under the shortstop's glove to score Sean Kazmar who doubled with one out.
After having a fantastic batting practice session that saw him launch four balls over the wall and display his quick hands, Kyle Blanks took a 0-1 fastball and cracked a three-run homer to left-center with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, giving Lake Elsinore a 6-5 lead.
"I think BP is a good time to feel good about yourself," said Blanks. "If you feel good the whole time I think it carries into the game. I am firm believer that it carries into the game."
On the first pitch, Blanks took a colossal swing and missed.
"Get a fastball and hit it," Blanks said of his approach. "It was the same pitch – I just hit it the second time – fastball down the middle of the plate."
Blanks ended the day 2-for-2 with two walks, three runs scored, and three RBIs. His 100 RBIs on the season ranked second in the system.
"(Blanks) was crushing the ball tonight," Cooper said. "His home run lifted us and carried us to victory."
R.J. Rodriguez recorded the first 1-2-3 inning since the first in frame six and did the same in the following inning.
"I just wanted to come in and keep throwing strikes," Rodriguez said. "Right after a big home run like that I didn't want to shift the momentum back to them and give up a run or let them get on base.
"Locating my fastball. I threw 10 pitches to Josh Bell, but I was able to keep pitching where I wanted to and that was the key for me. Fastball down and locate right. It is incredible. I was huffing and puffing because I threw so many pitches to him. but I got him out – that is the bottom line."
Cooper doubled in Josh Alley in the bottom of the seventh to extend the Storm lead to 7-5. After Blanks was intentionally walked, Seth Johnston doubled in Cooper. Mike Baxter received the second intentional walk of the game to load the bases with one out for Ciriaco. The second baseman doubled for the second time in the game – pushing the lead to 10-5.
"Last night I had a couple of opportunities with guys in scoring position and didn't come through," Cooper said. "It was nice to get those opportunities again tonight and have another chance to come through and help the team."
Cooper went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs. He has an 11-game hitting streak dating back to the regular season with 13 runs scored and 10 RBIs. He has not drawn a walk in 15 games.
A passed ball by Jose Lobaton allowed the fourth run to score. He committed a second passed ball a few moments later – on a pitch out. Ironically, Lobaton threw out all three runners attempting to steal last season.
Steve Garrison will pitch the series deciding game on Friday at the Diamond in Lake Elsinore.
"We play well at home," Blanks said of going into the deciding game. "I think everyone is going to feel pretty good."
San Antonio won 6-1 over Frisco (Rangers) [lead 2-0 in best of five]
Cesar Ramos (1-0) allowed one run over five innings, giving up five hits, walking two and striking out eight. The lone run came on a fifth inning homer. The left-hander has yielded eight runs in his last seven games, giving up one run or less in five of those contests. Ramos has allowed just 10 hits over his last three starts – spanning 15.1 innings. He matched his season-high in strikeouts. He has won 10 of his last 12 decisions.
"Our pitching staff – they go out there day after day after day after day and either put up zeroes or one, two, or three runs," Brett Dowdy said. "Our bullpen is solid. They are lights out.
"It takes a lot of pressure off us as hitters. We don't need to hit six homers or hit nine doubles. We just go out there and string some runs together here and there. We know if we put three or four runs together each game we are in the ball game. We don't have to push or press."
Peter Ciofrone, who drew a critical pinch-hit walk on Wednesday and scored a run, went 2-for-4 with a solo homer, two runs scored and two RBIs. Six of his last nine hits have gone for extra bases. Ciofrone went 4-for-25 in last year's playoff action for Lake Elsinore with a solo homer. He did draw four walks but scored just two runs.
Dowdy doubled twice in four at bats and added an RBI. He has three hits in this year's playoff action and all have gone for extra bases. The utility man has a 14-game hitting streak dating back to the regular season and has three homers in his last six games after netting three in his first 56. Dowdy also has an RBI in six of his last seven games, driving in eight over that span.
"We were facing (Armando) Galarraga tonight and from what I have seen he is one of the best pitchers in the Texas League right after a couple of our guys," Dowdy said. "He is a tough guy who locates his pitches down and in. I just happened to get a pitch over the plate and I put a good swing on it. The second time – what I have learned is as you go up you are going to see less pitches over the plate and you have to be patient and hope you get a pitch to drive. I happened to get two to drive."