April 12, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A monster three-run home run by All-American Mitch Garver sparked a seven-run seventh inning as the University of New Mexico baseball team remained tied for first in the Mountain West courtesy of an 11-4 victory over the Fresno St. Bulldogs in front of 607 fans at Lobo Field Friday afternoon.
The home run, which came on a 1-0 pitch, was an absolute monster shot over the wall in left that almost hit The Pit on the fly. With men on first and second Garver actually squared to bunt on the first pitch, but he pulled the bat back when he saw it was out of the zone.
“I was thinking we needed men in scoring position, at least two for Alex Real because he’s been really hot lately,” he said.
Good thing the curve ball stayed away, because the next pitch was up at the belt and Garver crushed it for his first home run of the season.
“He hit that one a long ways,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said as the ball traveled at least 430 feet on the fly.
The mammoth blast sparked the Lobos (18-16, 9-4) as they went on to add four more in the inning, with two coming on a ground-rule double to left-center by Chase Harris and two coming on a single by Sam Haggerty.
UNM found itself trailing 3-1 early as the Bulldogs(8-21, 3-8) hit Lobo starter Alex Estrella hard to the tune of three runs on seven hits in only two innings. It could have been more if not for a pair of double plays turned by the Lobos.
Jonathan Cuellar came out of the bullpen to start the third, though, and he settled things down and kept the Lobos in the game.
“To me the big thing was Cuellar coming in and turning off the faucet,” Birmingham said. “It was looking like a long day … after the first two innings.”
Cuellar did not factor in the decision but he went 4 1/3 innings and allowed only one run on five hits. He lowered his ERA to 3.23 on the season.
“He has been about as consistent as anybody on this team,” Garver said. “He comes in and he throws strikes. He got some big guys out in tough situations.”
Hobie McClain came on after a one-out single in the seventh and proceeded to shut down the Bulldogs the rest of the way. Over the final 2 2/3 innings he allowed just two hits while striking out two to move his record to 2-1.
“Hobie is back to Hobie,” Garver said. “He’s throwing the ball with good sink and he’s using that inside corner of the plate like he always does, and he’s not finding a lot of barrels.”
Birmingham agreed with his star catcher.
“Hobie can give up a couple of cheap singles and then get a double play-ball and it’s over,” he said.
McClain has steadily improved as the season has gone along. Named to the Stopper of the Year watch list prior to the season, he has allowed just seven runs in his last 22 1/3 innings for a 2.82 ERA over that time. He has struck out 16 and walked just seven.
“Hobie is back to being Hobie, which is huge,” Birmingham said. “We have to have that. For us to make a run at this and make it happen, (we) have to pitch.”
After falling behind 3-1 the Lobos scored one in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Jared Holley, then they took their first lead in the fifth on a two-RBI double off the wall in right by Ryan Padilla.
The Bulldogs tied the game in the sixth, but Cuellar and McClain worked their magic and the Lobos’ bats finally erupted in the seventh. Birmingham credited the big inning to his players making the proper adjustments.
“In Garver’s first at bat he squibbed one, and I told him he doesn’t have to fly open (on his swing),” he said. “He slowed the game down and stayed closed and now he’s on time.
“Chase Harris made an adjustment for me too … I told him to stay inside (the pitch) and I guarantee it will leave the yard. And then Haggerty made the same adjustment because he was swinging long too.”
Garver led the Lobos with a 4-for-5 performance. He scored twice and drove in three. Harris and Haggerty each went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBI. Harris scored twice and Haggerty once. Josh Melendez was the only other Lobo with multiple hits as he went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs and a triple.
With the win the Lobos kept pace with San Diego St. for first place in the conference. The Aztecs won at Air Force Friday afternoon and the two teams remain tied for first place in the Mountain West.
UNM will look to win its fifth straight series to open MW play Saturday. Sam Wolff will get the start on the mound for the Lobos with first pitch set for 1:05 p.m. (MT) at Lobo Field. ESPN Radio 101.7 The Team will broadcast the game live with the new voice of the Lobos, Robert Portnoy, providing the play-by-play.
Notes: Melendez was caught stealing in the fifth, ending his streak of 29 straight stolen bases without getting caught … DJ Peterson finished 1-for-3 with a run and two walks … Saturday is Jersey Day at Lobo Field as any fan wearing a jersey will get a ticket for just $3 … Melendez now leads the MW with four triples … Friday was Alumni Night at the ballpark with close to 20 alumni dating as far back as the 1950s attended the game … before the game Birmingham was presented a signed jersey commemorating his 1,000th win that he got last Saturday at Air Force.