Jake Wylie celebrates with John Skrbec after hitting his first home run of the year in the sixth inning.
Post-game Interview: Chris Lovejoy
WALLA WALLA, WA -- There's no better way to celebrate a twenty-first birthday than with a win in the midst of a playoff race.
With friends and family in attendance, that's what Walla Walla Sweets (26-22) starting pitcher Chris Lovejoy did Monday night in dominant fashion against the Kelowna Falcons (17-32), celebrating another year by collecting his third win. The left-hander hurled seven complete frames of no-hit baseball to lead the Sweets to a 4-3 victory at Borleske Stadium, helping the club hold on to its share of first place in the WCL North.
Lovejoy cruised through the Falcons order, despite surrendering three walks, the first of which came in the second inning. With right fielder Jarryd Klemm on first base via the free pass, designated hitter Reed Lovallee followed with a ground ball to second base, where Scott Silva started the turn on a slick double play. A fly out in the next at-bat set the Falcons down in order, keeping Lovejoy's pitch count low, a theme throughout the night.
Working quickly through the order, Lovejoy retired Falcons hitters in order in five different innings. The Ball State Univ. senior had confidence in his ability on the mound, but also felt that same confidence in the rest of the club.
"I felt great," he said. "Even though I gave up that hit and ultimately gave up a run, not getting the no hitter or the shut out doesn't really bother me."
Lovejoy entered the eighth inning without having allowed a base hit all night. A change up over the heart of the plate dashed the chances of a no-hitter when left fielder Cody Andreychuk slapped the first offering of the inning into left field. Yet Lovejoy will be the first to say that individual numbers and personal accomplishments are at the bottom of his priorities list; what matters most to him is wins for the ball club. However the left-hander has struggled recently, lasting just three innings July 26 in a road start against the Cowlitz Black Bears in which he allowed eight earned runs on 11 hits. His July 30 start on the road against the Wenatchee AppleSox fared much worse: 2.2 innings, five earned runs, nine hits, with his defense committing five errors behind him.
Maybe it was the birthday mojo that straightened him out Monday. And while fans might be thinking "no hitter," Lovejoy is simply thinking of holding onto a slim lead.
"Ultimately when you're throwing something like a no hitter or a shut out, you really can't think about it, because once you think about it, then it's over," he said. "You just have to think about giving your team a quality start and something they can work with to win."
His offense moved in with run support by the third inning when catcher Renae Martinez singled on the first pitch with two out. Right fielder Jake Wylie followed with a run-scoring single to put the Sweets ahead 1-0. Wylie did more damage in the sixth with a booming home run to left field, sending starter Jason Mouton's curve ball out of the ball park for his first home run in league play this year. As a pitcher, that kind of offensive spark gives a boost to Lovejoy on the mound.
"That's huge. To get that extra run, it just makes [me] feel great," he said. "It's just great to know the bats are behind [me] also. They'll put runs in, all [I] have to do is keep the other team down."
Another tally came in the bottom of the seventh when first baseman Jarod Gonzales singled to start the frame. After left fielder Jono Herkins's successful hit-and-run moved Gonzales to third base, Silva slapped a ground ball down the third base line. Third baseman Jeffrey Bohling tried to nab Gonzales at the plate, but threw low, as the ball went to the backstop and allowed a run to score easily.
With the Sweets ahead 3-0, signs of fatigue began to show in the top of the ninth inning when Lovejoy surrendered a lead-off ground rule double to catcher Nolan Johnson. A single and a fielder's choice later, Johnson scored to break up the shut out. Lovejoy's night ended after hitting Lovallee with a rogue curve ball, prompting manager J.C. Biagi to exchange the lefty for right-handed closer Sean-Luke Brija. Brija, who inherited two base runners, struck out the first man he faced, but allowed an RBI single to second baseman Scotland Church to trim the Sweets' lead to 3-2. Yet Bohling struck out swinging as Brija slammed the door on Kelowna and the 3-2 win, being mobbed by his teammates for the third consecutive night.
Having a high calibre closer in Brija gives Lovejoy a huge vote of confidence whenever he comes off the field.
"Oh yeah -- I know every time I come out of a game I'm going to have solid guys behind me to shut the door," Lovejoy said. "Brija has done it for me several times this season so I have the utmost confidence in him to finish it out."
With the Sweets on a current three-game win streak, they will take on the Falcons for game two of the series Tuesday at Borleske Stadium. Right-hander Connor Dillman will make his first start of the year with a 7:05 p.m. first pitch. Be sure to tune in to the live broadcast online here on the Sweets Radio Network, presented by Big City Reds, via the Sweets mobile app, or over the airwaves at 1490-AM ESPN Walla Walla/100.1 FM. Tickets for the Sweets' final homestand of the year can be purchased here.