By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett AquaSox use the annual Everett Cup exhibition game as an opportunity to build some familiarity with their new surroundings as well as shake off some of the rust heading into the Northwest League season. In some ways, the result is secondary to the players getting comfortable.
But this year there wasn’t much sign of the rust.
The Sox played a crisp, clean game as they defeated the Everett Merchants 5-2 in the ninth annual Everett Cup, played Wednesday evening at Everett Memorial Stadium.
The Sox played error-free ball in the field, and the Sox pitchers issued just three walks as they gave the amateur Merchants little to work with. It was the second straight Everett Cup victory for the Sox, who have won seven of the nine contests.
“I thought the guys came out and played hard,” first-year Sox manager Rob Mummau said. “We haven’t been able to do a whole lot because of the rain, the last couple days we haven’t been able to get on the field. The guys came out and swung the bats pretty well. We have some things to brush up on, but overall it was really good for the first night.”
Alfred Morales had two hits and Carlton Tanabe added a two-run double for the Sox, who open their season Friday at Tri-City.
Sox pitchers Seon Gi Kim and Jose Valdivia combined to allow just one run during the first six innings, with Valdivia being credited with the win. Oliver Garcia pitched a perfect ninth to record the save.
Snohomish native Nate Mullins homered to pace the Merchants, who matched their professional counterparts with eight hits in the game. Aaron Gates added two hits. Starter Alex Shaffer took the loss on the mound, giving up two runs in 21/3 innings.
“I thought it was a well-played game,” Merchants coach Harold Pyatte said. “We got a great effort out of our pitching staff, and we played really good defense. Hitting, we have to have a little better approach, especially when we have the bases corked and our four and five hitters up there. We took some fastballs we shouldn’t have taken. But I’m really pleased with my squad. We played those guys pretty straight up except for one inning.”
In the years in which the Merchants were able to pull the upset, they took full advantage of Sox mistakes, which usually came in the form of walks and errors. However, the Sox weren’t in a charitable mood this time around.
“They didn’t give us that opportunity tonight,” Pyatte said. “When we won before I think they made four errors. They were clean tonight, they made all the plays they had to make, and that was the difference.”
The Sox broke the ice in the bottom of the second. Morales led off with a single off the glove of Merchants first baseman Sam Parris, then came around to score when Marcus Littlewood dropped a double just inside the left-field line. Littlewood later scored when Jamodrick McGruder scorched a double off the right-center wall, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead.
The Merchants got on the board in the fifth when Mullins led off the inning by crushing a solo homer over the netting behind the left-field wall, cutting the Sox’s lead to 2-1.
The Sox then broke the game open in the sixth. The Sox loaded the bases with nobody out. Chris Taylor’s fielder’s choice grounder drove home one run. Then Tanabe followed by lofting a two-run double over the head of right fielder Craig Munson, making it 5-1.
The Merchants had one last chance to get back in it in the eighth, loading the bases with nobody out. However, the Merchants could only push one run across on Parris’ sacrifice fly as reliever Mario De Jesus worked out of the jam.
Based on the Everett Cup performance, does Mummau believe the Sox are ready for the start of the season?
“I guess we’ve got to be,” Mummau said. “We’ve got no other choice. We have some kinks to work out, obviously, and some of these guys haven’t played live baseball in two or three weeks. The timing is going to be a little bit off offensively for some of these guys, but we have 76 games to play. I think we’re ready.”