TROY — He was talking about the steady way he needs to approach his professional career, but Tri-City ValleyCats catcher Korey Lee’s pregame take that he needed to go “one inning at a time” proved particularly helpful in his debut.
“Absolutely,” Lee said Monday after the ValleyCats topped the Staten Island Yankees 2-1 in 10 innings. “I mean, going into extra innings is always tough, especially in the minor leagues when you start [the inning] with someone on second. You just have to take it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, and this game — as a team — we did a really good job with it.”
In doing so, the ValleyCats delivered their rookie manager Ozney Guillen his first win as skipper in front of a crowd of 3,704 that included his father Ozzie Guillen — the former Major League Baseball shortstop and manager — in attendance for Tri-City’s home opener.
The ValleyCats celebrated their 2018 New York-Penn League championship before the contest at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, then waited a couple hours to deliver some meaningful action. Down 1-0 in the ninth inning, second baseman Yeuris Ramirez forced extra-innings with a solo home run. Then, in the 10th inning, pinch-runner Deury Carrasco scored on a wild pitch to seal the ValleyCats’ victory.
Before that, Lee turned a slightly off-the-mark throw from third baseman Joe Perez into a highlight-worthy defensive play in the top of the 10th inning. Lee maneuvered to catch the throw, then applied the tag to the Staten Island base runner to preserve the 1-1 tie.
“I think he saved the game with the play at the home plate,” Ozney Guillen, 27, said.
While Guillen recorded his first managerial victory, last year’s ValleyCats manager Jason Bell — now the Houston Astros’ fundamentals coordinator — was back at Bruno Stadium both to bask in the pregame celebration of last year’s championship and to work with members of the ValleyCats in his new role.
“This brings back a lot of good memories,” Bell, who will make a couple more trips to see the ValleyCats before their season is complete, said of being back at Bruno Stadium. “Last year was a great season for the ValleyCats.”
At least early this season, Lee should provide some highlights as the Astros’ top pick out of the University of California where he hit .337 with 15 home runs in 51 games this spring as a junior. A year ago, Seth Beer — 2018’s first-round pick for the Astros — only lasted 11 games with the ValleyCats before earning the first promotion of his professional career. Beer is already at the Double-A level with the Corpus Christi Hooks, and Lee’s stay with the ValleyCats could be similarly short.
“He’s a very talented player,” Bell said. “He’s definitely showcased a really strong arm and a lot of power so far, and that’s just in some workouts.”
Lee went 0 for 4 in his debut, but said before the game that nothing could get in the way of him enjoying his first night as a professional baseball player.
“It’s indescribable,” Lee said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Meanwhile, the most nervous person at Bruno Stadium likely was Ozzie Guillen — and he embraced that as he watched his son manage.
“If you’re not nervous,” Ozzie Guillen said, “you’re not ready.”
For his part, though, the younger Guillen appeared calm and cool throughout the night. Even after the exciting conclusion to the game, he was ready to move forward rather than celebrate the win.
“Everybody’s happy,” he said. “I’m thinking about tomorrow already.”
Hansel Paulino recorded the win for Tri-City with two scoreless innings to finish the game, while starter Lupe Chavez pitched five scoreless innings before Jervic Chavez allowed one earned run in three innings. For Staten Island, reliever Josh Maciejewski took the loss.
The ValleyCats, 1-2 on the season, next three games are on the road against the Aberdeen IronBirds before Tri-City returns home Friday to play the Vermont Lake Monsters.
Staten Island 000 000 100 — 1 3 1
Tri-City 000 000 001 — 2 4 0
Keller, Maciejewski (7) and Narvaez; L. Chavez, J. Chavez (6), Paulino (9) and Lee.