Two weeks ago, Jesse Chavez was trying to figure out how to get River Cats hitters out as a starting pitcher for the Las Vegas 51s. Thursday night, his arm kept them from teetering onto the brink of playoff elimination.
Chavez, pitching in just his third game since the A's acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 24 for cash and sent him to Sacramento, was perfect into the sixth inning and made Jemile Weeks' third-inning homer stand up as the River Cats beat the Reno Aces 1-0 to even their best-of-five Pacific Coast League series 1-1.
The rest of the first-round series will be played in Reno, beginning tonight, which might not be such a bad thing for the River Cats. In eight games in Reno during the regular season, they averaged more than nine runs a game and hit .342.
Chavez, bringing his left knee nearly to his chest with each windup and pounding the strike zone with cutters and sinkers, had his perfect game broken up with two outs in the sixth inning on an infield single.
Shortstop Josh Horton gloved a sharp grounder off the bat of Aces ninth-place hitter Wladimir Sutil but, ranging far to his backhand side, didn't attempt a throw.
Some in the announced crowd of 8,206 stood to applaud, then seemed a little taken aback when the next two hitters reached base. Chavez, though, retired the Aces' Josh Bell on a first-pitch flyout to escape the inning.
Chavez also pitched around a leadoff double in the seventh with nobody working in the River Cats' bullpen, perhaps having earned a little leeway over a 10-year career that has included major league time in each of the past five seasons with the Pirates, Braves, Royals and Blue Jays.
Chavez's final game in the Toronto system was a start against the River Cats on Aug. 21, which made for an abrupt about-face, though the 29-year-old downplayed it Thursday.
"It wasn't that bad," Chavez said. "(The River Cats) made me feel right at home. Pitching against them right before kind of made it a little easier. Before that start, I talked to a couple guys, during batting practice and stuff, so it made the transition easier."
Asked if he's ever started a pitcher in a playoff game who had so recently pitched against his team, manager Darren Bush answered: "I think this is a first.
"He's adapted well," Bush said. "We have a very good clubhouse with a great group of guys, and I think it's a combination of that and that he's been with different organizations, different teams, is able to adjust."
Leading off the third, Weeks hit a slicing liner down the left-field line that was ruled foul. Bush argued the call to no avail, and Weeks then drove a pitch from right-hander Daniel Cabrera over the wall in straightaway center field to give the River Cats their first lead of the series.
"Worked out for the best," Weeks said.
The Aces didn't hit a ball to the outfield until the fifth against Chavez, who struck out 10 a night after Bruce Billings did the same. It was the first time this season River Cats starters recorded double-digit strikeouts in back-to-back games.
Right-hander Travis Banwart, who ranked fifth among PCL pitchers this season with a 3.85 ERA, will start tonight against the Aces, with Brad Peacock tentatively scheduled for Game 4, Bush said.