The fans of Walker Stadium got their Lardo fries and more on Wednesday as the Portland Pickles struck out a record 18 batters en route to a 7-3 victory over the Bellingham Bells.
Counting last week's five exhibition games, it was the ninth straight win for the Pickles (13-18), who are tied for first with Corvallis in the West Coast League South Division early in the second half of the season with a 4-1 record. The Bells (17-17) are fifth in the North with six straight losses and a 1-6 record.
Portland starter Brad McVay (University of Portland, ex-Milwaukie High) struck out 10 while also allowing two runs in 4.2 innings to improve to 3-2.
Bellingham's Brenden Argomaniz (0-1, Orange Coast College) gave up three runs and six hits in three innings.
"I'm working backwards a little bit," McVay said about his success on the mound. "The K's, a lot of them were on fastballs. I noticed they were pretty free swingers so I wasn't too worried about where I was putting the ball as long as they were up."
Portland got down quick, allowing a run in the first inning off an RBI single from Bells third baseman Troy Viola. But the Pickles didn't let that dictate the game like they had the first half of the season, when worry set in once they got down.
"It eliminates the panic," Portland coach Justin Barchus said about the team's newfound ability to score. "It's not that feeling at all. We get down 1-0 and it's 'okay, whatever. We're going to go up and do our stuff.'"
The Pickles responded with two RBI singles in the bottom of the third from designated hitter Kyle Manzardo (Washington State) and center fielder Davis Delorefice (University of Washington). Shortstop Alex Lambeau (Loyola Marymount) followed that with a solo shot to left field in the fourth that gave the 1,977 Pickles fans plenty of reasons to raise their chairs.
"I think that was the first fastball I'd seen all day," Lambeau said about his homer. "Including yesterday, they hadn't really thrown me any fastballs so I got into a hitter's count and looked for it and I hit it."
Bellingham answered when a walk with the bases loaded at the top of the fifth made the score 3-2 Pickles.
Portland didn't wait long to respond, with a pair of errors in the bottom of the inning leading to two more runs.
"Two biggest innings were when they put up one run and we put up two," Barchus said. "That is demoralizing as a team when you put up one run and we come back and put up two or give up one and answer back."
Will Simpson hit a sacrifice fly to left field that brought in one more run for the Bells in the eighth, making the score 5-3.
But catcher Darius Perry (UCLA) left Pickleville, USA with a taste much sweeter than the pickle juice contest at the bottom of the sixth did, hitting a two-run homer to all but ice the game.
The Pickles' offense is clicking better than in the first half of the season. On Wednesday, they had seven runs off 13 hits after putting up five runs on 11 hits on Tuesday.
"I think they're relaxing," Barchus said about what's changed in Portland's approach the plate. "Guys just finally relaxing and seeing their pitch and feeling comfortable that they're not squeezing the bat too tight, and it's shown on the scoreboard."
Having your pitchers throw 18 strikeouts makes it much easier on the offense, too.
"It does take a lot of pressure off of us," Lambeau said. "I haven't seen 18 strikeouts in a game in a long time, so that was pretty good."
Portland's pitching overall has been stellar, and Barchus and the staff has taken notice.
"I think for the most part we're executing what we need to do and listening to our pitching," McVay said.
"(With) 0-2, 2-2, we struggled early in the year in those counts," Barchus said. "Guys are just finally starting to execute pitches and come through."
As a team that has dealt with its fair share of struggles this season, the Pickles know what the Bells are going through. So the Pickles don't want to take their foot off the gas for the 7 p.m. Thursday series finale.
"It's just coming out and not letting them off the mat," Barchus said. "The biggest thing is if the momentum is not going your way, it's tough like it was for us. Unless somebody gives you something, it's tough to get off the mat yourself, so the biggest thing for us is going out and just fighting and not changing that mentality."
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