TROY — Just finished running a drill on the outfield grass with several of his players, Tri-City ValleyCats manager Jason Bell headed in toward his team’s dugout for a brief break before finishing his preparation for Thursday night’s game.
Bell, certainly, deserved a few moments to collect himself amid a trying week.
The week’s weather had been rough, with blistering temperatures meeting his team each day. Thursday, too, brought a storm through the region that hindered the young manager’s team’s pregame routine.
The night before had been a long one for a variety of reasons, chief among them a long delay caused by a power outage.
And, of course, the opponent — the same one, day after day — had been an unforgiving one.
“We’ve had some battles with them,” said Bell, a wistful note to his tone, “but we just haven’t come out on top very often in those.”
That opponent has been the Vermont Lake Monsters, a squad with whom the ValleyCats have spent their first week of July. Thursday night’s 4-2 win for the ValleyCats came in their fifth consecutive game against the Lake Monsters, who took three of the first four games this week against Tri-City.
“It’s huge,” ValleyCats shortstop Jeremy Pena said after the win. “We’ve played these guys a bunch of times this year and we’ve had a lot of close games. It feels good to finally close out a game.”
Especially since there is another matchup looming between the teams. A scheduling quirk sent Tri-City to play a three-game series in Burlington earlier this week before the Lake Monsters (11-10) followed the ValleyCats (10-10) back to Joseph L. Bruno Stadium for another three-game series. After those six consecutive days of squaring off against one another, the teams aren’t scheduled to play each other again until Aug. 11.
While Thursday’s game delivered a refreshing win for the ValleyCats, Wednesday night’s matchup delivered a bizarre loss for the home team. What started as a game focused upon the return to the ValleyCats of starting pitcher J.B. Bukauskas — the Astros’ fourth-ranked prospect, per MLB.com — quickly became memorable for more than the glimpse it offered at a potential future MLB star. A power outage caused a delay of nearly an hour, during which the Tri-City players occupied themselves by using a slingshot to send souvenirs into the crowd. After the game resumed, a skunk found its way into Vermont’s bullpen because, well, of course it did.
This week’s first three matchups between the teams each were one-run games, while Wednesday’s ballgame was headed that way before Vermont scored five runs in the ninth inning of its 6-1 win.
“It’s been a fun few games against them,” Bell said. “It’s just always more fun when you’re winning and on the good side of it.”
The ValleyCats struck first and never trailed Thursday against the Lake Monsters. Pena doubled in the fourth inning, then took third base and home as Vermont pitcher Jhenderson Hurtado short-hopped back-to-back wild pitches.
Tri-City also scored a run apiece in each of the next two innings, while the Lake Monsters scored once each in the sixth and seventh. Vermont’s final run came on a solo home run from shortstop Jeremy Eierman, while ValleyCats right fielder Gilberto Celestino answered that blast with one of his own in the eighth inning.
Shawn Dubin picked up the win for the ValleyCats after allowing one run in two innings of work, but Tri-City’s Bryan Abreu starred during a four-inning effort as the game’s starter. Abreu struck out nine and allowed only two base runners.
“Impressive,” Bell said of Abreu’s night. “That’s who he is. He’s one of the more impressive pitchers in our whole organization. Just to see his consistency and the way he attacked the zone tonight, [it] just showed everybody here what he is capable of moving forward.”
And next up for the ValleyCats is yet another game against the Lake Monsters. Six games in as many days against the same foe has made for a tiring stretch, but it will be a rewarding one for the ValleyCats if they’re able to win Friday to split those six games after dropping three of the first four.
“It’s been some tough ones, back and forth, two even teams going at it, but that’s what makes it fun,” Bell said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t feel fun when you’re on the other side of it, but we did a great job of battling tonight.”
Vermont 000 001 100 — 2 5 1
Tri-City 000 111 01X — 4 3 0
Hurtado, Marsonek (6), Mejia (8) and Mullen; Abreu, Dubin (5), Daniels (7), Hardy (9) and Salazar