In front of a crowd no less exuberant for being limited to 15% capacity by COVID-19 health and safety rules, the Hillsboro Hops blitzed through the Everett AquaSox to open their 2021 season on Tuesday night, May 4.
The Hops won 4-1, scoring the game's first runs off Everett starter Matt Brash in the third inning and never relinquishing the lead. Luis Frías, starting for Hillsboro, earned the win as he gave up one run over five innings.
The game started with a feast of strikeouts. Frías, who put up a 1.99 ERA with the Hops in 2019, struck out the side to open the game, and then Brash responded by striking out six batters in his three innings of work.
Brash was on point until the third inning, allowing a two-out hit in the second inning and little else. But the Hops got going with an infield single by center fielder Corbin Carroll, who ranks as the Arizona Diamondbacks' top overall prospect, according to MLB.com. The single appeared to kick off Brash's foot, but after a practice pitch or two, he stayed in the game — and promptly surrendered the game's first run, as Carroll stole second before shortstop Blaze Alexander rifled an RBI single to right.
Right fielder Dom Canzone poured it on, blasting a two-run home run to right-center to put the Hops up 3-0. Brash escaped the inning, but Everett manager Louis Boyd went to his bullpen to begin the fourth inning.
Frías struck out five batters over his first three innings and cruised through a four-pitch fourth inning, aided by a double play that erased a leadoff single by Everett right fielder Julio Rodríguez.
But the 22-year-old hit a rough patch in the fifth inning, with four straight batters reaching against him. Frías got some help from batterymate Nick Dalesandro, who back-picked second baseman Kaden Polcovich after he walked to lead off the frame. But Carroll tried to throw out catcher Carter Bins as he went first-to-third on a single by center fielder Jack Larsen, and his throw skipped in for an error that allowed Bins to score.
Meanwhile, the Everett bullpen cooled off the Hops' offense. David Ellingson and Tim Elliott combined for four perfect innings before the Hops finally got to Elliott in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Blaze Alexander launched a no-doubt solo home run over the batter's eye in straightaway center field.
The AquaSox threatened in the eighth as well, but they didn't score despite being gifted two walks by Hops reliever Kyler Stout. Left-hander Nick Snyder, another veteran of Hillsboro's 2019 season, came on to strand both runners in the eighth and set down the side in order in the ninth inning to earn a four-out save.
The Hops start the season 1-0, and they have 119 games to go. Their season next continues with five more games at home against Everett, followed by a Monday, May 10, doubleheader against the Eugene Emeralds.
Baseball is back in Hillsboro. pic.twitter.com/4jj7iiKToy— Mark Miller (@markdmiller2) May 5, 2021
This is the first year for the Hops at the High-A level, and their first game action in 604 days, due to the pandemic wiping out the 2020 minor league baseball season.
The Hops last played at Ron Tonkin Field on Sept. 8, 2019. They closed out that 2019 campaign by winning the Northwest League championship over the Tri-City Dust Devils on Sept. 11, 2019, playing the decisive game in Pasco, Washington.
While it's unclear whether the Hops are officially "defending champions" in the new High-A West league, they celebrated their 2019 championship before the game with a flag-raising ceremony.
Nine of the Hops' players also suited up for the 2019 team, and team president K.L. Wombacher called them out onto the field to observe the flag-raising, to applause from the home crowd.
The crowd itself was energetic despite its limited capacity. Ron Tonkin Field has a capacity of 4,500, but with Washington County under a "high risk" designation from the Oregon Health Authority for the spread of COVID-19, it is limited to 675 spectators. On Tuesday night, it was at capacity, and most fans stayed until the end, powering Snyder in the ninth inning with cheers of "let's go Hops!"
The Hops will try to improve to 2-0 as they take on Everett again at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday, May 5.
By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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