San Bernardino, Calif. — The Storm carried a 5-1 lead into the eighth when the wheels came off as the Inland Empire 66ers pushed across eight runs. Elsinore rallied back and were able to bring the winning run to the plate in the ninth, but ultimately fell short and dropped the contest 9-7.
“It was awesome to see the offense fight there,” said Storm Manager Eric Junge. “The guys came right back, and I think we’ve got a lot of confidence we can [do that]. We gave ourselves a chance to win right up to the end, but unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”
The Storm got on the board first when right fielder Matt Acosta hit a 430-foot two-run homer in the top of the third. The Southern California native, who connected on six round-trippers in 81 games for Elsinore last year, has quickly gotten out of the gate. After adding a pair of singles later in the contest, he’s 5-for-8 with a pair of runs and four RBI in his first two games.
Storm starter Victor Lizarraga didn’t have his best stuff, laboring through the first three innings while issuing four walks, a hit batter and a pair of wild pitches. Even with all the traffic, he limited the Angels affiliate to just one run before finally finding something of a rhythm in the fourth. He struck out the two batters he faced before reaching his pitch limit in his final frame. The 18-year-old righty relied heavily on his changeup and a fastball that sat 91-94.
“I thought he did look comfortable in that fourth inning when he started punching tickets there,” said Junge. “He raised his game in a way that’s exciting to see a young player do, and that bodes well for the future.”
After Lizarraga allowed one run in the third, designated hitter Jared Alvarez-Lopez tripled under the glove of diving center fielder D’Shawn Knowles to open the fourth, then came around to score on a single by Carlos Luis. The Storm added on in the fifth when a James Wood infield single and two hit batters loaded the bases for Alvarez-Lopez, who lined a single to left to plate two more.
The Padres drafted Alvarez-Lopez, 21, out of high school in 2019, and the Houston native spent his draft year and all of 2021 at the complex. He had a chance to be the hero in the ninth but struck out with the tying runs on base.
Down four runs in the bottom of the eighth, the 66ers loaded the bases with one out off undrafted free agent Brenden Heiss. Heiss got a sac fly for the second out but couldn’t finish the escape act, allowing another walk and a wild pitch. He gave way to Mason Feole, who allowed both inherited runners to come across and was also tagged for four of his own. The damage could have been even worse if not for Acosta’s stellar throw from right field to cut down another would-be run at the plate to end the frame.
Jackson Merrill opened the top of the ninth with a single to left – his fourth hit and fourth opposite-field hit of the young season. After Wood struck out, Justin Farmer, Acosta and Marcos Costanon all singled to make it interesting, but the offense stalled out after that.
Of Note: Padres reliever Luis Garcia, who dealt with a slight abdominal strain during Spring Training and hit the IL to open the season, worked a quick rehab inning in the fifth, dialling it up to 100 and showing off his split-fingered fastball. The Angels’ Low-A farmhands didn’t stand much of a chance against the righty with 360 big league games under his belt. He is eligible to be activated on Thursday … Carlos Luis, who has always made loud contact when he’s made any contact, put on a display in batting practice, banging two balls of the light tower in right-center field. The 22-year-old left-handed hitter is still working to put things together consistently in games, where he has just three career homers in 526 plate appearances.