The new kid from Brooklyn came up big for Santa Fe on Thursday night.
Santa Fe Fuego pitcher and New York transplant Francisco Rodriguez struck out seven batters and gave up three hits and one run in eight innings to help the Fuego beat the Alpine (Texas) Cowboys 6-1 in Game 2 of the Pecos League Championship Series in Alpine.
The series is now tied 1-1, with the final game of the best-of-three series being played at 6 p.m. Friday at Kokernot Field.
Rodriguez is one of the newest members of the team, but he has already made a big impact in helping the Fuego stay in the running for the franchise’s first championship.
“He had a couple of rough innings where he scuffled a little bit, but he got right back after it,” Fuego manager Bill Moore said in a telephone interview. “He gave up one run in eight innings. That’s a pretty damn-good baseball game.”
Santa Fe got going early when catcher Eric Kozel advanced home on a wild pitch to first baseman Chevas Numata in the top of the first inning. Numata then hit a double to bring in shortstop Craig Massey for a 2-0 lead.
Alpine scored its first run in the bottom of the seventh when first baseman Brian Milliman hit a single to bring in second baseman Tyler Heck. The Fuego answered that run in the next frame when Massey brought in Kozel with a single to give them a 3-1 lead.
The Fuego, who scored double-digit runs in four of their last six-regular season games, got no easy runs from the Cowboys. After Wednesday night’s 5-4, 13-inning Alpine win, it became apparent that all the games in the series were going to be close.
“It’s two good baseball teams trying to fight it out,” Moore said. “We’ve been good all summer long, and we’re just throwing blows.”
The Fuego got a little bit of breathing room when Kozel hit a three-run home run in the top of the ninth. It may have made things harder for Alpine in the final inning, but Moore was not ready to wave the victory flag just yet.
“Absolutely it helped, but we’re talking about baseball, and everybody gets the same exact number of chances, so there’s no such thing as sealing the game away,” Moore said. “You have to play 27 outs and see what happens.”
Brandon Gonella relieved Rodriguez in the top of the ninth and recorded three outs to set the Fuego up in an all-or-nothing game Friday. That makes it the most important game of the year for both teams, but the Fuego have been picturing themselves in this game all season.
“The goal all summer long was to be where we’re at,” Moore said. “I’m sure we’ll respond favorably.”
Preston Zachrich is scheduled to start for Santa Fe on Friday.