The Portland Beavers were hitting nearly 20 points higher than their season average in the previous five games, but had lost each one because of defensive miscues and missed offensive opportunities. It was the latter of the two that plagued the Beavers for most of their Monday night match up against the visiting Omaha Royals, but luckily for them Clay Hensley was forcing Omaha to have similar issues, giving his team a chance to win in the end.
Hensley took the hill Monday evening at PGE Park, needing his team to give lend a little support. Through the first 56 games of the season, the Beavers’ 66 errors and .969 fielding percentage is the worst in the Pacific Coast League. They have lost the first two games against Omaha this series, committing two errors in each contest. Tonight, however, the Beavers were able to put up a goose egg in the error column en route to a 3-2 win.
Hensley was making his first start since being optioned to the Beavers, and fourth start overall. After beginning the season with the Padres, the righty was plagued by an injury and made three rehab starts with the Beavers. In the three games, he allowed 21 hits, 11 walks and ten earned runs in just 12.1 innings of work.
Omaha strung together three hits and a walk off Hensley that led to two runs in the second inning. A single by Mitch Maier followed a walk to Mike Aviles to put runners on first and second. Both runners scored two batters later when Matt Tupman doubled down the third base line. The next batter, Richard Lewis, singled to right field, but a strong throw from Vince Sinisi nailed Tupman at the plate to end the inning and keep the score 2-0. It would be the only runs they would get in the game, as Hensley and the Beavers bullpen dominated the rest of the way.
A nervous moment occurred in the Beavers half of the second. With two outs, Ray Chang lined a double into the left field corner. As he coasted into second base, though, he stepped awkwardly on the bag, twisting his ankle in the process and going to the ground immediately. Chang was able to walk off the field on his own accord, but was taken out of the game as a precaution and will be evaluated further tomorrow.
Back in the game, Mike Sansoe continued Chang’s two-out rally as he doubled into the right field corner to score pinch runner, Luke Carlin. Carlin would remain in the game at second base. Chang has showed himself worthy of the advancement since moving up to the Beavers, posting a .317 average, and has at least one hit in seven of the last eight games.
Aside from the second inning, Portland’s offense struggled to come up with clutch hits with runners in scoring position, as the team stranded eight runners through the first six innings In the seventh, Josh Howard walked for the second time in the game and stole second base a few pitches later. With the tying runner in scoring position, Craig Stansberry did what he’s been doing all season long, singling home Howard to tie the game at 2-2. Stansberry was hitting .405 with runners in scoring position coming into the game.
The Beavers were faced with a tall order in trying to score on Omaha’s hard throwing lefty, Neal Musser. In 14 appearances this season for Omaha, Musser has not allowed an earned run to score in his 25.2 innings. He entered the game in the seventh, and had shut the Beavers down.
With two down in the ninth, Sinisi went the other way on a 0-and-2 offering from Musser, and found a hole for a base hit. Stansberry came up and skied a ball up in the infield. Maybe it was fate, or maybe it was the slight drizzle that had begun earlier in the inning, but Omaha looked like little leaguers as they scrambled around looking for the ball and let it drop in between the pitchers mound and first base, giving the Beavers new life as Sinisi moved to third base. Myrow saved the crowd any suspense as he belted the first pitch he saw off the wall for a game winning single. The run was unearned, as the Beavers won 3-2.
Aside from the shaky second inning, Hensley put together a solid performance, by far the best since his injury. He kept his pitches down, exhibiting good control and poise on the mound. His defense backed him up well, as Hensley was able to work around lead off hits in the third, fourth and fifth innings. The Royals had at lease one runner on base in the third through the seventh innings, but Hensley was able to shut them out to keep his team in the game. Royce Ring relieved him in the eighth. Ring shut down Omaha in order with a ground out and two strikeouts, lowering his ERA even further below one, to 0.72. Leo Rosales pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up the win.
“[Hensley did] a really nice job today,” said manager Rick Renteria. “Seventy-five percent better than his last outing. Not necessarily in the results, the results took care of themselves, but his approach too, and how he attacked the strike zone. Kept the ball down a lot, worked both sides of the plate and mixed his pitches and did a nice job.”
In the ninth inning, Mike Sansoe was called out at first base on a questionable call that Renteria argued. After the game, he was noticeably stressed about the game, but was proud of his team for pulling out a win.
“In spite of everything, the umpires did a nice job,” said Renteria. “Just so they know. They have a tough job and we’re emotionally wrapped up in all of this. It was nice to see these guys keep battling.”