Questionable ninth inning call leads to loss

R.J. rodriguez

EUGENE- The players, coaches, and fans in Civic Stadium were sure of the out on R.J. Rodriguez' pickoff move to first base in the ninth inning Friday night. Everybody that is, except the one who counted: the umpire. By the end of the inning, the runner, Jair Fernandez, would round the bases and score the winning run for the Everett AquaSox, and bump the Eugene Emeralds from playoff contention.

With the score tied at one in the ninth, Jair Fernandez singled with one out off Rodriguez. Rodriguez' pickoff move brought those in attendance to their feet as Fernandez scrambled back behind the tag by first baseman Craig Cooper. The umpire, standing behind the pitcher, called him safe to the dismay of all.

"I didn't think it was that close, I thought he was out," said Manager Doug Dascenzo, obviously disgruntled with the umpiring in the last few nights.

A few pitches later, Fernandez stole second base and advanced to third base when the throw from Kody Valverde deflected off the Fernandez and into short left field. Dean Zorn blooped a single into short right-center field to bring in the eventual winning run. Rodriguez was saddled with the loss.

Coming into tonight's game, the Emeralds sat eleven back of first place Salem-Keiser Volcanoes, with still a glimmer of hope to stay in the hunt for postseason play. However, the Volcanoes took care of business, winning 10-1, and the Emeralds didn't as they stranded 13 runners in the 3-2 loss.

In Brooks Dunn's 17 appearances this season for the Eugene Emeralds he has accumulated a 3-6 record despite a 2.89 earned run average that is among the top ten in the Northwest League. Dunn, however, is second in the league in losses. Something is wrong with these statistics. The problem is solved when one looks at the runs allowed in his losses. In three of his six losses, Dunn has allowed one or less earned runs, and just two in another.

When asked about the lack of run support and bad luck he's had, Dunn looked up from under his hat and smiled knowingly. "Hey, if I had bad luck, at least I had some luck," he replied in his notable southern accent. "It's just one of those things. You just keep going out there and just work on things, you know."

Dunn took the mound Friday night for the first of the three game series against the visiting AquaSox. It was more of the same for Dunn, as he pitched six innings and allowed two unearned runs, while getting no run support from his offense. He left the game, down 2-0.

The two runs off Dunn were scored in the fourth inning with one out and a man on first base. Dunn made a pitch to get Bryan Sabatella to ground to shortstop for what looked like an inning ending double play. But the usually sure-handed Jesus Lopez flung the ball wide of Tom King at second and it sailed into right field to keep the inning alive for the Sox. Two batters later, with runners on second and third, Fernandez hit a two-out single into center to plate the first two runs of the game.

"I got enough losses now, six, it seems like on a couple of them something happens that is uncharacteristic of somebody or myself and it costs us the loss," said Dunn, obviously dismayed over his luck so far. "But we fought hard tonight, it's too bad we lost, we played good."

Ironically, as soon as Dunn left the game, the Emeralds luck turned. After stretching in the seventh, the Emeralds were finally able to group some hits together to tie the game. Mike Epping led off the bottom of the seventh with his second double of the night, pulling relief pitcher Steven Richard's offering down the line and into the bullpen. He later scored the first Ems run on a sacrifice fly by Matt Antonelli. The run was Epping's league leading 48th on the season.

With the bases clear and a 2-1 score on the board, Craig Cooper walked to bring up Chad Huffman, who pulled a hard shot down the third base line. Third baseman Leury Bonilla was able to knock the ball down, but his throw, which Huffman had beat to first base skipped past the first baseman and down into the Ems bullpen. Cooper was able to round the bases to knot the score at two.

Inning after inning, the Emeralds threatened to score, but their attempts were thwarted nearly every time. The Ems stranded runners in each inning, as they were unable to get the clutch hits they needed to win the game.

After the game, Dascenzo commented on this lack of hits. "Just like on the defensive side, you got to make the plays on the offensive side, you have to get the timely hit when you need it. When you don't do all of it its tough to beat the other team."

With the playoffs out of the picture, Dascenzo, Dunn, and the team refuse to end the season prematurely.

"We're just going to try and finish up the season strong. We're probably out of it, but we're going to play these last 11 games just as hard as we can," said Dunn.

The Emeralds and AquaSox play again Saturday night at 7:05 pm. Aaron Breit, the scheduled starter for the Ems, is coming off a strong performance in his last appearance on August 21, in which he pitched six scoreless innings for his first win of the season.

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