“Fastball” was the only word Ravel Santana said in English during his postgame interview.
The Tri-City ValleyCats outfielder knows fastball very well, and he showed it in the eighth inning Monday when he sent a three-run home run out of Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in left field, breaking a 2-2 tie. The ValleyCats added another run on Alfredo Gonzalez’s solo homer a few pitches later, and they beat the Vermont Lake Monsters, 6-2.
“The pitcher was out of control, so I was looking for a good pitch that I can really hit hard,” Santana said with teammate Alex Hernandez translating. “He started me off with a slider, so I was looking for a perfect fastball right there, which I got, and I hit it out of the ballpark.”
The homers were served up by Vermont reliever Dominique Vattuane, who had come on in the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs and got J.D. Davis to ground out on a check-swing to end the threat.
He stayed in for the eighth, and the ValleyCats were all over him. After Ricky Gingras grounded out, Nick Tanielu and Ariel Ovando hit back-to-back singles. Santana and Gonzalez followed with their back-to-back homers to nearly the same spot on the berm beyond the left-field fence.
In the third inning, the ValleyCats had runners on first and third with no outs, had three hits in the inning, including a Davis double, but came away with just one run. In the seventh, they had the bases loaded with one out, led off with a single and drew three walks, but managed just one run.
Then they were finally able to string their hits together in the eighth.
“That shows you, stay patient,” Tri-City manager Ed Romero said. “They’re patient. Stay with it, and somebody will come through.”
Helping their patience was the performance of reliever Brandon McNitt, who came on in the sixth inning and retired all nine batters he faced in three perfect innings, striking out three. He lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 and picked up the win.
“My fastball was working,” McNitt said. “I kind of lost the feel of my breaking ball. Changeup was working, so I kind of just stuck to fastballs and pounding them inside, and it worked well.”
Ovando was 3-for-4 with a run scored, and Jose Solano drove in a pair of runs with fielder’s-choice grounders.
Tri-City starter Austin Chrismon lasted five innings, allowing two runs on four hits, walking one and striking out three. He had retired 10 of his previous 11 batters before surrendering a one-out solo homer to Brett Vertigan in the fifth.
Joe Michaud lasted six innings for the Lake Monsters, allowing one run on six hits, striking out eight and walking none.
The ValleyCats have scored 32 runs in their last five games, in which they are 4-1. With the win, they improved to 7-4 on the season.
“The last three or four games, these guys have been swinging the bat much better,” Romero said. “We’ve been scoring runs. I think we’ve scored 20-something runs in the last three or four games. The bats are coming alive.”
Just like the rest of the team, Santana feels he is finding his stride at the plate. He was 1-for-4 with two runs scored and his three-run game-winner.
“I started off slow,” Santana said. “I was a little hurt from extended [spring training], and it started off a little slow for me, but I thank God that I came out and got the big hit tonight.”