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Ventura makes final at-bat count

April 19, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

Leivi Ventura found the convenience of amnesia.

All it takes is one second of contact to forget an entire evening of misses.

Ventura erased the mind-numbing effects of four strikeouts with a ground-ball single to left with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday to complete the Hagerstown Suns' three-run rally for a 4-3 win over West Virginia Power.

Suddenly, Ventura will be remembering a night to forget. He connected on Dane Renkert's 1-2 pitch and pushed it in the hole past West Virginia shortstop Ryan Crew to bring home Matt Anderson with the winning run and complete the most improbable of comebacks.

"I was lost today," said the Suns' third baseman with translation help of Hagerstown hitting coach Luis Natera. "I had no plan when I was at-bat. Then, the last at-bat, I got a plan."

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Ventura struck out in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings, looking rather aimless in the batter's box. Power pitchers used breaking pitches effectively to keep Suns hitters off stride with 14 strikeouts in the game.

It all changed when the game was tied at 3-3 with runners at first and third in the ninth.

Ventura took a ball and a called strike before swinging at and missing a low pitch to fall behind in the count. But it was the final pitch that counted the most.

"I just tried to put the ball in play," Ventura said. "When I got (behind in the count), I didn't feel any pressure. The situation made me stay with the pitch. ... Yeah, I like to hit in that situation."

It was a disciplined stroke in a clutch situation that completed a classic comeback for the Suns (6-6) to get them to .500 for the season. Hagerstown used two West Virginia errors in the ninth and some hustle to pull out the win.

"We played the whole game," Suns manager Frank Cacciatore said. "It always makes a night like this easier to swallow when you get a hit like that.

"For Leivi, he made the adjustments he needed to get the hit. He shortened up his swing and played like he was playing pepper. It was just make contact, just put the ball in play and win the game."

It was an opportunistic, exhilarating and quite possibly costly comeback for the Suns.

It started when Jonel Pacheco popped Renkert's pitch up to first baseman Ned Yost, who dropped the ball. Drew Butera, who struck out three times, mashed a shot down the left-field line that caught the top of the fence and stayed in the park for a double. Anderson came on as a pinch hitter and drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases.

Fernando Martinez got the Suns within a run with his sacrifice fly to left to score Pacheco. Jose Castro followed with a grounder that third baseman Mat Gamel bobbled and threw past Yost. Pinch runner Anthony Manuel, who just joined the Suns, scored from second as Castro hit the first-base bag awkwardly and tumbled to the ground grabbing his ankle. After Castro was helped from the field, Ventura put an end to the game.

"It changed the game for us after 14 punchouts," Cacciatore said. "We hit the ball tonight, but we didn't get the hits when we needed them to score runs. If we had done it earlier in the game, we wouldn't have had to do it like this. We were on the pitches, but just a little off because we were fouling the ball straight back."

Hagerstown's Ryan Meyers and West Virginia's Derek Miller, the starters, hooked up in a pitcher's duel for the first five innings. Meyers counterpunched his way out of innings while Miller rolled over the Suns with eight strikeouts.

West Virginia took a 1-0 lead in the first when Angel Salome hit a two-out double to right that Jonathan Sanchez lost in the sun before Salome scored on Gamel's double.

The Power took a 3-0 lead in the fifth with three hits, capped by Salome's RBI single, and Kenny Holmberg's sacrifice fly.

The Suns got one run back in the fifth as Martinez hit a two-out double to right center for his third hit and scored on Castro's single to right. The pair accounted for all four hits the Suns got off of the left-handed Miller.

"I'm feeling much more comfortable. Playing every day helps," said Martinez, who lifted his average 36 points to .347, with Natera's help. "I was staying back on pitches."

Kevin Tomasiewicz (2-0) pitched the ninth and got the win for the Suns while striking out two.

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