New park, renamed team, a Las Vegas blast—but you had to be there

20190411_190008
A view of the left field wall and panorama at the new Las Vegas Ballpark Thursday night.

The Las Vegas Aviators had a bit of a blast Thursday night, in their new Las Vegas Ballpark playpen in the west side of town’s Summerlin district. They smothered the Sacramento River Cats, 11-3, on a cool-turned-chilly night, heavy enough on the wind, with the key inning the third when the Aviators showed themselves triple players of the better kind.

As in, four triples in five plate appearances in the inning, and three of them hit consecutively. As in, the first of the three landing on the fly into a warning track wedge. As in, an eighth-inning home run missing being a splash hit by about a foot farther.

Unless you were at the game, as I was, or listening free via MiLB.com, you wouldn’t have known all that by picking up the Las Vegas Review-Journal Friday morning. All you knew was that the Aviators (now an Oakland Athletics AAA affiliate) sicced the hounds on the River Cats (a San Francisco Giants AAA affiliate).

You didn’t know that Aviators shortstop Jorge Mateo started the third inning fun by hitting the curvy line drive that landed on the fly between the track and the bottom of the right center field fence padding.

You didn’t know that, one called strikeout later, left fielder Dustin Fowler, first baseman Seth Brown, and catcher Sean Murphy all tripled in succession, leaving things 5-1, Las Vegas.

You didn’t know that called strikeout kept the Aviators from doing what’s only been done once in the major leagues, the Boston Red Sox hitting four straight triples in the bottom of the fourth 6 May 1934, en route a 14-4 blowout of the eventual American League pennant-winning Detroit Tigers.

Or, that the last time any team anywhere hit three straight triples was the Montreal Expos in the bottom of the ninth of a 5 May 1981 game—and it wasn’t enough to keep the Expos from getting blown out by the San Diego Padres, 13-5. (The Colorado Rockies almost did it, but Troy Tulowitzki rudely interrupted the string by hitting a two-run homer after the first two and just before the third triple.)

You didn’t know that, in the top of the eighth, with the Aviators keeping the game pretty much out of reach, River Cats third baseman Zach Green led off against relief pitcher Jerry Blevins, the former New York Met, and hit a 2-1 pitch over the right center field fence and into the ballpark’s swimming pool patio, until it landed just past the pool and bounded around the patio concrete. Since no fans were at poolside we assume a ballpark staffer retrieved the souvenir.

20190412_122658You didn’t know that until Green teed off the Cats’ first run scored in the top of the second when their first baseman Austin Slater scored while left fielder Michael Reed was dialing Area Code 5-6-3.

You didn’t know that the Aviators went 6-for-19 with men in scoring position on the night while the Cats went a mere 1-for-5. Or, that the Aviators did more damage against two Sacramento relief pitchers (Chase Johnson in two and two thirds, and Ray Black in the eighth) than they did against River Cats starter Shaun Anderson in the second and the third.

At least the Associated Press, whose coverage the R-J did use, was kind enough to tell you that Murphy missed the cycle by a double and a homer, while presuming you could figure out for yourself that Mateo’s triple, two doubles, and a single put him short of the cycle by one bomb.

The AP was also kind enough to tell you the Aviators turned the game into a full blowout with a four run eighth including Murphy hitting a three-run homer. Brown singled before Murphy launched one that flew about twelve feet over the right center field fence.

I get that the paper’s sports department is probably all over the NHL’s Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As in, a 31-team league allowing 51 percent of its teams to play for a championship, which is simply unserious no matter how engaging the sport actually is when it isn’t fans going to the fights where a hockey game breaks out. (I’ve never forgotten the year TV Guide‘s fall sports preview said, “Good news for fight fans—the NHL is back.”)

The Knights shocked hockey (and a lot of other people) by winning the Pacific Division title in their inaugural season, 2017-18. And they still had to slog through a playoff against less worthy teams before they got to be demolished by the Washington Capitals in the finals. This season, they finished third in the Pacific. And they lost a sloppy first-round first game to the San Jose Sharks, 5-2. It might as well have been Sir Loin of Beef against Jabberjaw.

Baseball may have the ridiculous wild card system in a pair of three-division leagues, but nobody finishing lower than second place in their division gets either of the two wild cards in each league. In the NHL and in the NBA (thirty teams, half of them making last year’s playoffs), you might as well not even play the regular season, almost.

And I get that Las Vegas Ballpark had some Opening Night problems, 40 mph winds hardly of the park’s own making, which thinned the starting crowd of over 11,000 before the third inning was over. The Thursday night winds weren’t that furious, but they were chilly enough by the time the fifth inning came around, and the crowd didn’t really begin thinning until around the sixth.

The Howard Hughes Corporation—which bought and renamed the team (they’re the former 51s) and built the ballpark—is capable of many things, but I’m not entirely sure that weather-making is among their talents.

I don’t know if the Review-Journal lacks a substantial baseball staff, or they decided to just follow the Knights strictly after the unexpected Opening Night windstorm. But at least they were kind enough to let the AP tell you that the Aviators have a four-game winning streak and a 7-1 season-opening record, which they haven’t done since they were still the 51s and a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate in 2006.

Or maybe Thursday’s game just didn’t have the pizzazz of Opening Night when an umpire took a bat out of the mouth of the Aviators’ bat dog, Finn, a labrador who’s trained to retrieve bats. The booing was loud enough to make you think the Orioles traded Chris Davis to the A’s and that the A’s sent Davis to Vegas to try to straighten himself out.

Or, maybe, two blowouts in their first three home games of the year just struck the R-J as dog-bites-man.

 

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