Otsuka’s Grand Slam Paces Pippins to Win
YAKIMA, Wash. – Back on June 20, Tora Otsuka (San Diego) had every right to question his approach at the plate. At the time, Otsuka had collected just four hits in his first 28 at-bats for the Yakima Valley Pippins. The numbers did not tell the whole story, however as Otsuka was hitting the ball hard but right at infielders and outfielders while his strike out rate was still low and he was working good at-bats. As a result, it became a matter of when, and not if, he would get himself going, which as it turned out, did not take very long to find out. In continuing his tremendous performance at the plate in month of July, Otsuka made yet another statement on Saturday, as he crushed a grand slam in the second inning to help spark the Pippins to a 12-7 victory over the Port Angeles Lefties in the opener to their final home series of the season.
For the sixth straight game, the Pippins (23-23, 10-9) got on the board in the first inning. After a Steve Sordahl (St. Martin’s) single to leadoff the home half of the first, Brad Beesley (Cal Poly-SLO) and Lucas Denney (Seattle U) both walked, setting up a Mitch Ellis (Western Illinois) sacrifice fly to plate Sordahl for the game’s first run.
In the second inning, the Pippins were at it again against Port Angeles starter, Parker Stohr (Mayville State), as Nick Plaia (Cal Baptist) began the frame with a single before Chase Wells (Seattle U) walked and Tyler Bosetti (Nevada) bunted for a hit, loading the bases with no one out for Sordahl. Sordahl then walked to bring in Plaia for a 2-0 lead and to set the stage for Otsuka.
Otsuka, who had popped out his first plate appearance against Stohr, did not take much time to get revenge, as he ripped a 1-0 fastball over the right-field fence for a grand slam to give the Pippins a commanding 6-0 lead.
Even with a 6-0 lead, the Pippins were far from done, plating another four runs in the third inning. The frame began with a Wells single, before Sordahl and Otsuka also singled to bring in the first run of the inning. After a Beesley groundout to plate Sordahl, Denney ripped a double into left-center to score Otsuka and make it a 9-0 game. After an Ellis walk, J.T. Strickler (Lower Columbia) added insult to injury with an RBI single to score Denney and give the Pippins a 10-0 lead heading into the fourth.
It was in the top of the frame where Port Angeles (16-31, 6-14) started to gain some offensive rhythm against Pippins’ starter, Will Adair (Cal Poly-SLO), plating two runs in the inning before getting two more in the fifth to cut the deficit to 10-4.
The Pippins were able to respond in the bottom of the fifth inning, using a hit-by-pitch on Denney and a pair of errors by the Lefties to plate two runs and push their lead back to eight at 12-4.
Port Angeles, not wanting to succumb on the road without a fight, scored a run in the sixth before adding two more in the eight inning, but ultimately, the relief combination of Pete Minella (Western Illinois) and Connor White (Portland), one which has been so lethal against teams in the latter half of the season, shut the door on any comeback hopes, as the Pippins went on to win 12-7 and stay within the thick of the WCL South second half playoff race.
Game Notes: Adair, making his second start, lasted 5 1/3 innings and earned the win to improve to 2-1, despite not giving the Pippins a quality start. He allowed five runs (four earned) while striking out six and walking five. Minella threw 1 2/3 innings and struck out three while not allowing a hit. For the season he has now struck out 17 while walking just two. White, appearing in his 19th game, did not come on in a save situation, but did extend his season-long scoreless innings streak to 11 1/3, a streak which began back on July 3 against Kelowna and has lasted over the course of nine appearances, including five saves within the span. Stohr, making his debut for Port Angeles, lasted just three innings and allowed ten hits and ten runs (six earned) en route to taking the loss.
Otsuka’s second inning grand slam was the fourth in Pippins franchise history and the first since Vince Fernandez hit one in the top of the seventh inning on August 10, 2014 on the road against the Wenatchee AppleSox. All three of the Pippins’ prior grand slams came in 2014 and came on the road meaning that Otsuka’s grand slam was the first one ever hit by a Pippins batter at Yakima County Stadium.
The home run was Otsuka’s third of the season and first since he homered in consecutive games in Gresham on June 25 and 26. Four different Pippins (Otsuka, Denney, Beesley and Plew) have now hit three or more home runs this season while the team has totaled 30 as a group. Since his 4 for 28 start to the season, Otsuka is hitting .380 (35 for 92) overall, including a .411 clip (30 for 73) in the month of July. With two hits he tallied his 12th multi-hit contest including his tenth in the past 15 games.
Denney collected his 13th multi-hit game while also hitting his 15th double of the season, the second most in the WCL. Denney is hitting .400 in the month of July while also slugging better than .700.
Sordahl tallied his team-leading 14th multi-hit game with a pair of singles. He had entered the contest just six for his past 28 after a blistering-hot stretch before the All-Star Break in which he hit .385 (20 for 52) over the course of 13 games.
Wells collected his fifth multi-hit games and second in his past four, which coincides with his matching a season-high five-game hitting streak.
What It Means: With the win, the Pippins are still 2.5 games back of the now first place Corvallis Knights in the WCL South second half standings. More importantly, the Pippins are a half game better than the Cowlitz Black Bears, whom are in the midst of a five-game losing streak. If Corvallis, who won the first half, wins the second half as well, then the tiebreaker for the second playoff berth goes to the next best overall record, which the Pippins currently own. Complicating things, however, are the Bend Elks, whom have now won three in a row to pull within a game of Corvallis, and whom could grab the second playoff spot by the winning the second half outright.
What’s Next: Game two of the series is Sunday night. Right-hander, Taylor Dollard (Cal Poly-SLO, 5-0, 2.55 ERA) will make his third start for the Pippins against Port Angeles right-hander, Eli Fultz (West Texas A&M, 0-0, 6.00 ERA) who will make his first start. Dollard’s last outing was cut short after just two innings of work on July 24 against Corvallis after he had suffered from a blister on his throwing hand.
First pitch is set for 5:05 p.m. from Yakima County Stadium.
ABOUT THE PIPPINS: The Yakima Valley Pippins compete in the West Coast League, one of the nation’s premier summer collegiate wood bat leagues. The Pippins play their home games at Yakima County Stadium (“The Orchard”) in Yakima, Washington. After winning 96 games during their first three seasons in the WCL, the Pippins set the mark as the winningest WCL expansion team after three years, and won their 100th game on July 13, 2017, to become the third-fastest WCL franchise to reach 100 wins. Yakima County Stadium recently played host to the 2017 West Coast League All-Star Game and includes an extensive 31-game home season for Year No. 4 of Pippins' Baseball in 2017. Read more online at PippinsBaseball.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube with #ThatWasAwesome.