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Wynton Bernard set an impressive tone for the Albuquerque Isotopes on Wednesday night.
The ‘Topes’ pitching staff made it stand up.
Bernard blasted a 473-foot home run to lead off the bottom of the first inning and the Isotopes never looked back in a quick-and-efficient 6-3 win over Sacramento at Isotopes Park. Bernard’s shot bounced off the Rio Grande Credit Union Field lettering atop the video board in left-center field and dropped back into the visitors’ bullpen.
It was believed to be the longest home run by an Isotopes player this season.
“That’s how you always want to start off a game,” Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer said. “It gets the fans excited, fires up the dugout, just a great feeling.”
It was the first and longest of four home runs by the home team Wednesday, all of them of the no-doubt variety. Carlos Perez and Sean Bouchard added solo shots, and Elehuris Montero belted a two-run homer as Albuquerque built a 6-0 lead after five innings and rolled to the finish line.
Starter Zach Neal (2-2) took advantage of the early long-ball support, shutting the River Cats out for five innings.
Neal retired 11 batters in a row before allowing a single and David Villar’s two-run homer in the sixth. He struck out five and did not walk a batter.
“Homers and pitching were the themes for this one,” Schaeffer said. “Zach Neal was fantastic, pitched like a veteran’s supposed to, and the bullpen finished the job. Through five innings, I had Sacramento with only two quality at-bats against Neal. That’s impressive.”
Fans undoubtedly got a bigger jolt from the six home runs hit in the game.
Eight of the nine runs scored came around on home runs, with Scott Schebler’s first-inning sacrifice fly the only exception.
Perez, Montero and Bouchard all exceeded 400 feet with their drives, but none could compare to Bernard’s bomb. The Isotopes’ center fielder was batting leadoff for the first time this season because Tim Lopes was a late scratch with a bout of food poisoning, Schaeffer said.
“Wynton’s been really good for us this season,” Schaeffer said, “and he really took advantage of his opportunity to lead off.”
Bouchard, who went 2-for-3 and scored three runs, followed Bernard’s homer with a ground-rule double and scored on Schebler’s sacrifice fly. Perez’s solo home run to left gave the ‘Topes a 3-0 lead after one inning.
Montero’s two-run shot in the third inning, and Bouchard’s solo homer in the fifth upped the margin to 6-0.
“Second night in a row we scored three runs in the first inning, which is a good sign of preparation against the starting pitcher,” Schaeffer said. “This time our pitching made it stand.”
Wednesday’s game also followed another odd pattern set in Sacramento’s 9-7 win in the series opener. In that game, River Cats hitters struck out 14 times in a winning cause. Albuquerque hitters struck out 13 times Wednesday, with each starter fanning at least once.
“I guess it was new-age baseball,” Schaeffer said, “a whole lot of homers, walks and strikeouts. Nobody wants to strike out, but some nights it’s going to happen. The last two nights it’s happened a lot.”
JD Hammer, Zach Lee and Chad Smith worked the final 31/3 innings to secure the win for Albuquerque.
Isotopes pitchers combined for eight strikeouts with no walks.
Wednesday’s game started at 6:05 p.m., 30 minutes earlier than usual because the teams were scheduled for an 11:05 a.m. start on Thursday.
Wednesday’s time of the game was 2 hours, 22 minutes.