But a late Portland rally, including a two-out game-tying blast from Craig Stansberry in the bottom of the ninth, stole the headlines.
Antonio Perez’ homerun in the top of the tenth even surprised him. After it left the field, Perez stood between first and second base, perplexed and wondering what had happened until the umpire gave him the go ahead to circle the bases and score the game winning run. Perez finished the game 2-for-4, with the homerun, a double, walk, two runs scored, and two runs batted in.
The Beavers, who had been fighting all night to comeback, tried one more time to rally in their half of the tenth. But, a bad call at second base on a 5-4-3 double play hit by Royce Huffman, had pinch runner Brett Dowdy called out, effectively breaking the back of the Beavers.
Dallas Braden struck out seven batters in six dominating shutout innings in his debut for the River Cats, allowing just three hits and one walk. Since being drafted in 2004, Braden has racked up a 24-6 record in all levels combined. In his two Double-A starts this season, the lefty had struck out 13 batters in 12 innings en route to a 1-0 mark and 2.25 ERA.
But with Braden out, the fireworks started, as the Beavers put together a four-run seventh to get back in the game. Vince Sinisi singled and scored on an eventual sacrifice fly by Oscar Robles. Refusing to stop there, they loaded the bases against relief pitcher Santiago Casilla, who recorded just the one sac-fly out before being relieved by Connor Robertson. Robertson promptly gave up a first pitch single to Stansberry, plating the second run of the inning.
With one out, the bases loaded, and the winning run at the plate, there could not have been a better welcome back situation for the batter, Paul McAnulty. A hard hit ground ball to short, looked like an inning ending double-play, but McAnulty busted down the line, beating the throw, and allowing the Beavers to score another run. But, more importantly, it gave Cust a crucial at bat.
Cust delivered, lining a 0-and-2 pitch for an RBI single past a diving Melillo, who was playing in short right field because of the shift the River Cats infield have been using, ineffectively, with Cust at the plate.
Portland starting pitcher Justin Germano had been hot for the Beavers to start the season. In two games, he had posted a PCL second-best 0.75 ERA, striking out nine and allowing just one earned run in 12 innings pitched. He picked up a win in both starts, one of which was against River Cats on April 9. In that game, he scattered five hits and struck out six batters in five innings in his first appearance of the season.
He did not fare so well tonight, however, as the River Cats used disciplined hitting to put together six hits and three walks in five innings off Germano. All four runs they scored were earned, raising his ERA to 2.65.
Pesky Sacramento batters continued troubling Germano and the Portland bullpen all night with patient hitting, working the count in their favor, and getting their pitches; they scored at least one run in five different innings.
Leadoff hitter, Kevin Melillo started things off early for the River Cats, lacing a 0-and-2 offering from Germano over first baseman Royce Huffman. After retiring the next two batters, Daric Barton hit a double in the right-center field gap to score the first run of the game.
Barton gave Sacramento a 2-0 edge in the third, when he lined a 2-and-2 pitch just fair down the right field line, shattering his bat in the process. The double scored J.J. Furmaniak from second base, who reached on a single and stole second base. Barton was 3-for-5 with two doubles in the game. They would tack on two more in the fourth on two hits and two walks (one intentional) off Germano.
Making his first Triple-A start, Braden exuded confidence on the mound as he went at each batter he faced with a hard fastball and deceptive screwball. Refusing to back off even on the Beavers’ hot hitters, Cust, hitting .533 in his last five games coming into Thursday night and Stansberry, who was hitting .367 this season. Cust went 0-for-2 with a walk and Stansberry was 0-for-3 against Braden, while newly acquired Paul McAnulty also went hitless in three at bats against Braden.