Little things added up to a big win for the Albuquerque Isotopes on Tuesday night.
The first-place Isotopes, that is.
An infield hit, a balk and a ball that briefly popped out of catcher Tom Murphy’s glove all played key roles as the ‘Topes pulled out a 4-3 win over Salt Lake at Isotopes Park. It was Albuquerque’s fourth straight win and pulled the club into a tie with the Bees atop the PCL’s American Southern Division.
The sizzling Isotopes have gone 17-6 in their last 23 games to climb from worst to a tie for first in the standings. The latter accomplishment came as news to manager Glenallen Hill.
“Tied for first place? With who?” Hill asked after Tuesday’s game. “Actually both teams are playing well right now, so winning feels nice. We need to enjoy it.”
Relief pitcher Jerry Vasto and outfielder Stephen Cardullo were fitting heroes in Tuesday’s win. Vasto (2-0) worked 2⅓ scoreless innings for the victory, and Cardullo did a number of little things that proved pivotal for the Isotopes.
Hill appreciated both.
“We wanted to stretch Vasto out a bit because he’d only thrown like 15 pitches in his last two outings,” Hill said. “He came into a tie game and did a really nice job.”
Cardullo was a late addition to the lineup who made his presence felt. He threw a runner out at second from right field, drove in a run with a fly ball and started what would be the winning rally with an infield hit.
“Cardullo plays with a mindset that he wants to do something to help the team,” Hill said. “If he could stand on the plate and get hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, he’d would.”
The comment brought a smile to Cardullo’s face.
“Every time I’m in the lineup I just try to find a way to help us win,” he said. “I’m always ready to play and G Hill knows that.”
Salt Lake did just enough to get Isotopes starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman out of the game in the sixth. Jabari Blash worked a one out walk, stole second and eventually scored on Nolan Fontana’s bunt single to tie the score at 3-3.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh, when Cardullo beat out an infield hit on a chopper to third base. He was erased on Anthony Bemboom’s fielder’s choice, but Elliot Soto then chopped a hit-and-run single up the middle to send Bemboom to third. Salt Lake pitcher Jake Jewell was called for a balk to plate the go-ahead run.
The Bees put the potential tying run aboard when Dustin Ackley singled off Scott Oberg to start the ninth. Ackley, who hit a two-run homer earlier, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt.
With Eric Young Jr. batting, an Oberg pitch briefly popped out of Murphy’s glove and straight up. Ackley took off for third base but Murphy grabbed the ball and threw him out.
Oberg then struck out Young to end the game and earn his second save.
“I just think we’re playing to our potential right now and things are going our way,” Cardullo said. “This is a talented team and people go about their business in a great way. I just think that’s paying off for us.”
Mike Tauchman finished 2-for-4 for the Isotopes, raising his batting average to .392. Tom Murphy added an RBI triple and scored on Cardullo’s third sacrifice fly in his last two games.
Hoffman allowed three runs on six hits in 5⅔ innings but was done in by a high pitch count. He walked four, struck out five and threw 96 pitches.