EVERETT — The Everett AquaSox were determined to give Dave Valle a victory in his managerial debut. Even if they had to pull it off late.
Everett rallied in the late innings, coming from behind to defeat the Hillsboro Hops 4-3 Friday night in the Northwest League curtain raiser at Everett Memorial Stadium.
The Sox trailed 3-1 going into the seventh. But Everett got within one in the seventh, then scratched together two runs with two outs in the eighth to start Valle out with a victory.
“It was a great win, a great come-from-behind win for these guys,” Valle said. “I’m just excited for them.”
Everett was unable to get much going offensively through the first six innings, but an RBI double by Arby Fields in the seventh cut Hillsboro’s lead to 3-2.
Then there seemed little danger in the bottom of the eighth as Hillsboro reliever Dustin Loggins got two quick outs. But Loggins walked Wilton Martinez on four pitches to give the Sox a baserunner. Brett Thomas beat out an infield single, a wild throw on the play allowing Martinez to advance to third.
Kyle Petty, who entered the game as a defensive replacement the previous inning, then dropped a single into right to tie the score, with Thomas taking third. Bryan Brito followed by bouncing a ball to the hole between short and third. Hops shortstop Justin Gonzalez tried to make an acrobatic throw to first, but Brito beat it out as Thomas crossed home with what proved to be the decisive run.
“Any time you get two-out hits it’s crucial,” Valle said. “That’s what winning games and championship teams are made of: getting two-out hits, two-strike hits, guys who are battling and grinding. I think you saw that from our guys tonight.”
The reason why the Sox were in position to make a comeback was the performance of their bullpen.
Everett starting pitcher Rigoberto Garcia struggled mightily with his control. The right-hander was accomplishing the rare feat of starting on opening day on consecutive seasons for the Sox, and last year he was exceptional in five starts with Everett, going 4-0 with a 2.22 ERA before being promoted. But Garcia had difficulty finding the strike zone in Friday’s cold and damp conditions, throwing just 34 of his 80 pitches for strikes. He ended up walking seven and hitting another batter in his three-plus innings, departing early despite not allowing a hit.
But the bullpen picked Garcia up. Leoncio Munoz relieved Garcia in the fourth, worked out of a jam, and ended up tossing 32/3 innings of excellent relief, allowing one run on two hits and a walk while striking out five. Then Dylan De Meyer threw the final 21/3 innings, giving up just a single hit and striking out two to pick up the victory.
“I loved it,” Valle said about the performance of his bullpen. “Any time you have a strong bullpen, and we saw that with the Mariners on that last road trip, bullpens win baseball games. They came in and shut it down — (the Hops) only got two hits.”
Hillsboro starter Ben Eckels, who like Garcia was making his second straight opening-day start for his team, fared better than his counterpart. The right-hander limited the Sox to one run on four hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out four, but had to settle for a no decision.
Everett found itself behind before the Sox even came to bat as the Hops manufactured a run in the top of the first inning. Taylor Ratliff led off the game with a walk, stole second, then came around to score on a pair of groundouts to stake Hillsboro to a 1-0 lead.
The Sox countered in the bottom of the first with a manufactured run of their own. Luis Caballero was drilled in the head by an Eckels fastball that cracked his helmet, but Caballero remained in the game. He stole second and third, then scored on Martinez’s groundout to short, knotting it at 1-1.
Hillsboro got another run without the benefit of a hit in the third. Indeed, it came without the benefit of contact as Garcia loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter, then forced home a run by walking Jordan Parr after getting ahead 0-2 in the count, giving the Hops a 2-1 lead.
The Hops were hitless through four innings, but Todd Glaesmann got Hillsboro into the hit column in a big way leading off the fifth, belting a high homer to left-center to make it 3-1.
Everett got back within one in the seventh when doubles by Kristian Brito and Fields made it 3-2. It could easily have been tied, but when Toby DeMello was hit on the hand by a pitch it was ruled a foul ball, and he ended up flying out. He would have been on base for Fields’ double and had a chance to score.