RENO When the River Cats resumed their opening-round playoff series Friday at Aces Ballpark, which is too big to be called a bandbox but certainly plays like one, it seemed inevitable the low-scoring ways of the first two games would be left behind somewhere along the interstate.
River Cats hitters thrived in Reno during the regular season, so the question was posed to manager Darren Bush before Friday night's game whether that might even out whatever home-field advantage the Reno Aces get from playing the rest of the series at home.
"I mean, no, not really," Bush answered. "They get to play in the same park."
Indeed, the River Cats flexed their power with several titanic home runs in Game 3 but couldn't stop the steady offensive flow of the Aces, falling 11-7 and into a two-games-to-one hole in this five-game series. They will try to stave off elimination and force a decisive fifth game tonight behind right-hander Brad Peacock.
"There's no panic, no panic," outfielder Jermaine Mitchell said. "We were down 2-0 last year (and won). Just got to go out there and play every day. You never know what's going to happen."
The Aces broke a 7-7 tie in the eighth. With runners on second and third and two outs, Tyler Kuhn hit a chopper that bounced over the first-base bag and past a diving Daric Barton. Barton's dive carried him into the legs of umpire Brian Sinclair, and he popped up immediately to argue the fair-ball ruling as both runners scored.
Bush also came out to dispute the call, and after Bush returned to the dugout, Reno's Josh Bell hit the next pitch from reliever Rich Thompson over the wall in left-center. Thompson bent over with his elbows on his knees. Barton, hands on hips, stared out toward the wall as Bell rounded the bases.
"I went out there to ask and said (Barton's) playing on the line, he reached over the line," Bush said. "But Brian's right there. He's right there, so he's got the best look, and I'm sure he made the right call."
Reno's Jonathan Albaladejo came on in the ninth and struck out Josh Horton, Mitchell and Grant Green, finishing off a remarkable night for the Aces' bullpen, which had entered the game with a 1.01 ERA over its previous 53 2/3 innings.
All nine of the outs recorded by relievers Sam Demel, Jensen Lewis and Albaladejo over the final three innings came by way of strikeouts. River Cats hitters struck out 15 times in the game.
Much of their offense came from the long ball. After being held to two runs in the first two games of the series combined, the team that led the PCL this year with 171 homers let loose in the thin Reno air with Mitchell, Kila Ka'aihue and Michael Taylor (twice) all homering.
Taylor's second, a shot that disappeared behind the billboards beyond the left-field wall, tied the game at 7-7 in the eighth inning after the Aces had taken a one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth.
The River Cats had rallied after falling behind 6-2 in the fourth. Things unraveled for starter Travis Banwart when the Aces caught a break on a botched squeeze play. With Reno's Taylor Harbin caught between third and home, third baseman Grant Green bobbled the ball, allowing Harbin to score and opening the door for a five-run inning for the Aces.
"We scored and they'd come right back and they'd score," Bush said. "We were battling back the whole game. We got big hits to get back in the game, guys swung the bat well, but we just couldn't hold it."