River City Rascals lefthander Cory Caruso hadn’t pitched in almost two weeks, and hadn’t really pitched well since last season.
But with his club in a bind and needing someone to step up and make an important start in the first game of a doubleheader against the first-place Gateway Grizzlies, Wednesday afternoon at T.R. Hughes Ballpark, Caruso was the choice.
And the former Cal State-San Bernadino standout delivered what was no doubt his best performance as a professional ballplayer, going all seven innings, in a complete-game six-hitter, to lead River City to a 6-2 victory over visiting Gateway.
Rascal third baseman Steve Carillo cranked his first home run of the season deep into the bleacher seats in left field off Grizzlie starter Matt Sergey (0-1) to help spark a three-run bottom of the second inning, which proved to be the deciding blow in a win River City desperately needed.
The Rascals came into this important four-game series 10 games behind the Grizzlies in the Frontier League West Division standings, and need to make as much hey as possible in head-to-head matchups with the division frontrunners if they’re going to have any shot at catching them or possibly earning a wild-card spot in the playoffs.
That’s why Caruso’s performance was so important for River City, which improved its overall record to 20-25, after also defeating Gateway in the series opener on Tuesday night.
Carillo finished with two hits, as did All-Star first baseman Phil Wunderlich, who took over the Frontier League lead in RBIs by driving in a run with an groundball out later in the second. Wunderlich now has 42 RBIs.
The Rascals added two more runs in the third, and led 6-0, before the Grizzlies finally got on the board with a single run in the top of the fifth.
Gateway could only manage four scratch singles off Caruso (1-0) before All-Star center fielder Antone DeJesus lined a one-out double off the River City lefty in the ninth.
Fans then began to wonder if Caruso would get to finish off what he started when Alex Guthrie singled home DeJesus for Gateway’s second run.
But by getting two lazy fly ball outs to end the game, Caruso was able to get the first complete-game victory of his young two-year career.
The second game of the doubleheader went to the Grizzlies, who rallied from an early 5-3 deficit to defeat the Rascals 8-5 in eight innings, to earn a split on Wednesday.
The teams will play the final game of their four-game set Thursday night at T.R. Hughes, with Casey Barnes (2-2) making the start for River City, and Tucker Jensen (4-3) getting the nod for Gateway.