PACIFICS WIN 2018 PACIFIC ASSOCIATION CHAMPIONSHIP

Angel Ventura Shuts Out Stompers in Dominant Performance

The San Rafael Pacifics, born in controversy and now for sale, last night in Sonoma won their fourth championship in their seven years of existence.  They did so on the strong right arm of a 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Angel Ventura, who threw a bravura complete game two-hit shutout to cap an up-and-down season that may prove to be the team’s last.

“I can’t even begin to describe the range of emotions I’m feeling right now,” said Pacifics President and General Manager Mike Shapiro during the post-game celebration, champagne still dripping down his face.  “This season was a struggle on so many different fronts, but if this is the end for us, we walk away on top and proud of all we’ve accomplished.”

After a blazing 30-10 first half of the season that featured a league record 13-game winning streak, the team returned to earth with a mediocre 20-20 second half mired in injuries, disciplinary problems, visa issues and late season call-ups to key players.

There were brilliant performances by a team, that when whole and healthy, may have been the best in Pacifics and, for that matter, league history.  It was a team with the league’s best pitching staff, batting average, and fielding percentage; lefty Jared Koenig (11-1, 3.53, 1-0, 0.00 in playoffs) set the single season and single game strikeout record; complete player Javion Randle led the league in hitting with a .402 average; and acrobatic shortstop Rando Moreno, led the league in doubles.

While the Pacifics limped to the finish line, the Stompers surged with a 32-8 record in the second half, building an insurmountable 7-game lead to capture the #1 seed in the playoffs. 

Both the Stompers and the Pacifics won their semi-final games at home on Saturday night to tee up a championship game match-up between two managers, Matt Kavanaugh and Zack Pace, who’d been teammates with the Pacifics and longstanding good friends.

“I’m really happy for Zack and the job he did in his rookie year as a manager,” said Kavanaugh prior to the game.  ”I wish him every bit of luck tonight, but expect he’ll have to settle for finishing in second.” 

After playing his two aces, Koenig and Max Beatty (9-3, 3.93), on Saturday, Kavanaugh turned to Ventura (4-0, 2.88) who joined the club on August 5th after eight affiliated minor league seasons in the Brewers organization, reaching AAA the past two seasons.

Not having pitched competitively since his May release, Ventura built his arm strength and stamina over 5 starts that featured 35 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched.  He dazzled in his tune-up start last week against Vallejo, tossing 6 innings of no-hit ball with 11 strikeouts.

“Ventura was ready to go,” said Kavanaugh.  We kept him on a pitch count last Tuesday even though he had a no-no going.  That game meant nothing other than to get him set for the championship game.”

And ready he was.  From the first pitch thrown, Ventura was simply dominant.  Mixing a riding 95 mph fastball regularly spotted on inside corner paint with a hellish, late-breaking slider Ventura struck out 15 Stompers, 8 in a row at one point, and coasted with seven 1-2-3 innings.  He allowed two seeing-eye ground ball hits and walked only one. 

“I’ve never seen a performance like that before, especially considering it was in a championship game,” said Kavanaugh. “I had Beatty, Herr and Damon ready to come out of the bullpen if needed, but Ventura gave them the night off.”

Sonoma sent out right-hander Tyler Sharp (5-2, 3.22 ERA) who’d shut out the Pacifics on August 1st.   Traded mid-season from Napa to Sonoma, Sharp entered the game with just one loss for Sonoma in nine starts. 

Coming into the championship game, Sonoma’s pitching staff had not allowed a run in their last 21 innings. 

But Sharp wasn’t all that sharp this evening, routinely missing the strike zone with his fastball and showing no command of his slider or curve.

The bottom of the order got to Sharp in the 2nd when Ricky Gingras and Wes Wallace flared back-to-back one out singles. Kyle Ulanday took a walk on four straight balls to load the bases before the struggling Sharp also walked Aaron Brill, driving in a run. 

Sitting on a fastball, DonAndre Clark got beat inside but put enough barrel on the ball to flip it into center field for an RBI single, scoring Wallace. With the bases still loaded and only one out, Rando Moreno took another four-pitch walk, extending the lead to 3-0. 

Pace was forced to go to his stacked, all-hands-on-deck bullpen earlier than expected. 

Lefty Kenny Matthews (4-2, 3.85 ERA) first had to face the powerful Jake Taylor with the bases loaded and one out.  On a 1-1 count Taylor stung a line drive into deep left-center for a sacrifice fly, scoring Brill and giving the Pacifics an early 4-0 lead. 

Immediately, Ventura made his statement as to who was in control of this game, retiring the first ten hitters he faced, eight of whom he struck out consecutively. 

Sonoma found their first crack in Ventura’s momentum after back-to-back one out singles by Kam Stewart and Rob DeAngelis in the bottom of the 4th. Digging deep, Ventura struck out Kenny Meimerstorf with a high-riding fastball and got Brock Hartley to fly out to Dempster in right to end the threat. 

That would be all Sonoma could muster for the rest of the evening.  Ventura then retired six more in a row, before issuing a two out walk to Stewart in the bottom of the 6th, but got a groundout to end that inning. 

Kyle Ulanday slammed a no-doubt solo home run to left center field in the 6th and Brent Gillespie padded the lead in the top of the 7th with a solo homer of his own, a towering moonshot to right center field, finishing the scoring at 6-0. 

Ventura easily set down the last ten Stompers, striking out four of them, including the last two to place an exclamation point on one of the most dominating pitching performances ever seen. 

“I’ve been around the game of baseball a long time,” said Shapiro. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone, at any level, pitch with such complete command of all his pitches and combine exceptional velocity with such filthy breaking stuff.  I am in utter amazement over what Angel did tonight, particularly considering the stage he was on.”

“He was insane tonight,” said Pacifics pitcher Max Beatty. “Easily the best pitching performance I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

The 2018 championship season has now ended and the future for this franchise remains uncertain.  No matter what becomes of the team, there will be a trunk full of fond memories.  We will recall the wonderful people who made it all happen - the team’s owners, all the front office staffers and interns over the years, our great fans and sponsors and host families…our marvelous players who gave us so many thrills.

We will recall Julian Arballo’s 11 pitch strikeout to finish out the 2012 championship against Maui, Eric Bainer’s controversial bloop double to beat Vallejo in 2014 and, of course, Daniel Gonzalez’ walk-off single to win it in 2015.  We’ll add to the gallery Angel Ventura’s masterful complete game shutout last night.

In this bittersweet coda to an idea that stood out for its authenticity, its commitment to community service and its honoring of the game of baseball, we hope to be remembered not only for these four prideful championships but rather for so much good that was done for so many people. 

Maybe the most that can be said is that over these past seven years the Pacifics made a lot of people happy.    

Thanks to all of you who’ve made the Pacifics a part of your summers.