RENO, Nev.—A pitcher's duel is one of the rarest sights in the Pacific Coast League, and judging by their comments this week, International League pitchers know it.
But that is exactly what broke out after the starters left Wednesday night's Triple-A all-star game.
If the ballpark-record 10,135 spectators were hoping for the offense-heavy games they're used to in Reno, they were disappointed from the third inning on.
After six runs crossed the plate in the first two innings, 15 pitchers combined to allow only one the rest of the way as the IL took a 4-3 victory against the PCL at a bursting-at-the-seams Aces Ballpark in Reno.
Indianapolis catcher Tony Sanchez (Pirates) put the IL on top for good with a three-run home run into the right-field bullpen in the second inning, and the IL bullpen limited the PCL to four hits the rest of the way.
"That's the way I remember them going down," IL and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Dave Miley said after he watched his eight relievers carve up a potent PCL lineup for seven innings. "You hear it all the time that good pitching beats good hitting."
Durham righthander J.D. Martin (Rays) and Indianapolis lefty Kris Johnson (Pirates) each threw a scoreless inning before Scranton righty Chris Bootcheck (Yankees) tossed two scoreless frames. Pawtucket’s Anthony Carter (Red Sox) and Durham’s Kirby Yates (Rays) each followed in tow, and Indianapolis’ Vic Black (Pirates) and Columbus’ Preston Guilmet (Indians) split the ninth inning as the IL improved to 9-7 in the all-time series.
"The expectations were to have smooth innings throughout, and that's pretty much the way it went," said Black, who said he took particular enjoyment in sharing the ninth with the IL's saves leader. "It played out really smooth. Being here, you want to compete and show what you can do."
No matter who was coming in, when the IL bullpen door swung open another dominant pitcher jogged through. Rochester lefty Andrew Albers (Twins) was the only IL reliever to give up a run.
"A lot of guys here know the PCL is a hitter-friendly league, so that start wasn't surprising," Bootcheck said. "But this whole staff knows what it's doing. One guy after another, each guy put up a zero. It was good to see."
The PCL bullpen was equally as good, as it shut out the IL for 7 1/3 innings after Round Rock righthander Jarred Cosart (Astros) gave up four runs—including Sanchez's blast—in 1 2/3 innings. Memphis righty Michael Wacha (Cardinals), perhaps the game’s top prospect, paced the PCL relievers with 1 2/3 perfect innings.
"That's what you get with an all-star roster," Sanchez said of both pitching staffs. "All these guys can play and get the job done. The last seven innings were more stereotypical of these types of games."
Sanchez's big blow in the second inning proved the difference. He turned around a Cosart fastball for an opposite-field homer that put the IL ahead 4-2.
"You don't expect Cosart to give up four runs in the first two innings," said Sanchez, who had nine home runs in the season's first half. "I ended up getting enough of it to get it out, so I was proud of that . . . I knew I hit it hard. Once I hit it I knew it was at least a double. But we all know the ball flies in the PCL and I happened to get enough of it."
PCL manager Brett Butler, who manages in Reno during the season, knows very well and was OK with where he thought the game was going early.
"I thought it was going to be a slugfest initially, but they really settled in and did a good job," said Butler, who lost his debut as an all-star manager. "I thought we were definitely going to score some more runs. They probably thought the same."
Reno shortstop Chris Owings (Diamondbacks), who leads all of baseball with 147 hits for Reno and who played all nine innings for the PCL, liked where the game was going early on.
"I felt like it was going to be a high-scoring game, a typically Reno game," said Owings, who finished 1-for-4 against four different pitchers after he singled and scored in the opening inning. "But the pitchers settled in, for sure. You know that coming into these kinds of games. Everyone wants to show their best."
The IL jumped on Cosart in the first when Louisville speedster Billy Hamilton (Reds) reached on an infield single on the first pitch and stole second base on the second. He scored two groundouts later.
The PCL answered with three singles to start the bottom of the first and received RBIs from Fresno’s Brett Pill (Giants) and Memphis’ Brock Peterson (Cardinals).
Chris Gabel covers sports for the Reno Gazette-Journal