FRESNO, CA – The Fresno Grizzlies struck the ball well in the first game of the Highway 99 Showdown Series against arch rival Sacramento River Cats, as Fresno took the first meeting of the current five game set at Chukchansi Park by a final score of 8-4. Every Grizzlies starter contributed with at least one hit, and starter Steve Hammond gave a strong enough performance to earn the win.
The Fresno offense wasted no time heating up, recording five hits in the first inning for a three-spot early. Eugenio Velez found himself in the designated hitter role, leading off the game with a triple, scoring the following play on a sac-fly from Ryan Rohlinger. Starting left fielder John Bowker added to his stellar Triple-A season with a double, before being pulled for pinch-runner Joe Borchard, who scored on a single from Jesus Guzman.
The Grizzlies improved their lead in the third on an RBI double from second baseman Matt Downs, giving them a 4-0 advantage. The scoring would bounce back-and-forth the rest of the night, with Fresno answering every time Sacramento would put a run on the board. After the River Cats scored their first run of the ballgame in the top of the fourth on a solo homer from Travis Everidge, Fresno responded in the bottom half with their second sacrifice fly of the game, this time by Velez.
Sacramento right-hander Travis Banwart was called up from Double-A Midland to make the first Triple-A start of his career. The Grizzlies roughed up Banwart for seven runs (all earned), on eleven hits, handing him the loss. Fresno’s bats scored consistently all night, with two more runs in the fifth and another in the seventh. The four, five, and six hitters for the Grizzlies all had multiple-hit performances at the plate. Guzman contributed a pair of singles, scoring three times and driving in a run. Downs ended the night going 3-for-4 with a triple, two doubles, three RBI and a run scored.
Fresno’s pitchers managed the Sacramento lineup all night. The southpaw Hammond threw 6.1 innings allowing six hits, four runs, and struck out two. The bullpen pitched excellent, with right-hander Felix Romero relieving Hammond in the seventh inning, giving up no runs in 1.2 innings of work. Grizzlies closer Geno Espinelli pitched a shutout ninth, and preserved the win.
The second game of the Highway 99 Showdown Series will take place Thursday night. Fresno will start Matt Kinney (5-9, 6.04), who will face off against former Grizzly Jerome Williams (1-3, 6.27) for Sacramento. First pitch is set for 7:05pm PDT.