RIDGEFIELD — Asked to describe the feeling of playing a baseball game on the Fourth of July in front of hundreds of fans, Ridgefield Raptors pitcher Blake Hammond called it “electric.”
“It’s just one of those times where it’s fun to be at the park,” Hammond said. “You just got to take it all in, have a good time and pitch your butt off.”
For five innings of the Raptors’ series opener against the Portland Pickles on Tuesday at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, Hammond did just that.
The right-handed starter threw five scoreless innings with five strikeouts, two walks, two hits allowed and exited with a 1-0 lead that later grew to 3-0 thanks to Andy Allanson’s two-run home run in the seventh inning.
But the Pickles threw a bigger counter-punch. Dalton Mashore and Jack Metcho put five runs on the board by hitting back-to-back home runs with two outs in the eighth inning and the Pickles held on for a 5-4 win.
“That’s just how the game goes sometimes,” Hammond said. “You’ve got to trust your guys. Sometimes they’ll perform, sometimes they won’t and you got to live with that.”
The result kept Portland in the hunt for the West Coast League South Division first-half title, which secures one team a postseason berth for the playoffs in August.
Coming into the week, Ridgefield (18-9) sat atop the division standings, needing to avoid a series sweep against Portland (15-7) and also have the Corvallis Knights lose at least one game to the Kelowna Falcons’ in order to win the first-half title. The Raptors got the latter result Tuesday when the Falcons defeated the Knights 10-3.
The Raptors’ Independence Day afternoon started swiftly with a Jake Tsukada leadoff double and a Julian Nunez RBI single to spot the home team a 1-0 lead.
That margin stood unchanged for the ensuing six innings until Allanson unloaded a two-run homer with two outs in the seventh inning for a three-run cushion.
Yet Portland’s batting order, one of the best in the WCL, got on track in the eighth.
The Pickles loaded the bases against Ridgefield reliever Ross Goldschlag with a walk, error and Andrew McKenna single. Though Goldschlag was able to turn a 1-2-3 double play on a ground ball to the mound, the Raptors weren’t safe yet.
The next batter, Mashore, hit a deep fly ball to right field that carried over the fence for a game-tying, three-run homer, chasing Goldschlag out of the game.
Fresh out of the bullpen, Ridgefield’s Nate Wenzel then gave up a two-run homer to Metcho in a nearly identical spot to right, allowing Portland to go ahead 5-3.
The Raptors got one run back in the bottom half of the inning on a Nunez RBI triple, but were unable to get the tying run across. Ridgefield left 12 runners on base during the game.
Portland reliever Morris Austin struck out the side in the ninth inning to earn the save.
“It’s tough, but we’ve got a good ball club,” Nunez said. “We’ve been hot all year. We’ll come back tomorrow better.”
Aside from the result, Raptors players relished the experience of playing in a Fourth of July game, which, for many, didn’t happen often, if at all, while growing up playing summer ball.
Attendance for Tuesday’s game was reported to be 1,934, one of the Raptors’ largest crowds of the season, despite temperatures reaching the low 90s during the afternoon.
“It’s awesome. Coming from a junior college you don’t really get much fan interaction like this, so it’s super neat coming out on the Fourth of July and supporting (us),” said Nunez, who’s set to join Pepperdine after playing at San Diego City College.
Ridgefield will be at home for five more games this week, starting with Wednesday’s game two of the series against Portland. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.