Bryan Herrera’s unintended rope-a-dope pitching strategy — borrowed from boxing great Muhammad Ali — worked to perfection, just in time for the Hawaii Stars to scoop up a much-needed win.
Herrera took his share of lumps but pitched long enough to help the Stars edge the San Rafael Pacifics 5-4 in a North American Baseball League game Thursday at Wong Stadium.
The Stars (20-19) and first-place Pacifics (25-14) will play the fourth game of a six-game series at 5:35 p.m. today at Wong. John Holley (0-1, 6.28 ERA) is scheduled to start for Hawaii on Senior Citizens Night, with free admission for those age 55 and older. The Stars will also give away T-shirts to a few lucky fans.
The rope-a-dope is the boxing strategy that an aging Muhammad Ali used to beat George Foreman in 1974, taking an ambulance of hits and hoping his younger opponent would tire himself out.
Like Ali, Herrera seemed to hope the Pacifics would tire themselves out swinging the bat. After all, in eight innings, the left-hander allowed four runs on 10 hits. He walked three and struck out seven.
Pacifics outfielder Steve Detwiler was a pain in the neck. He went 3-for-4, Zack Pace was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and John Hurst cranked a long solo homer off Herrera in the fifth inning.
But no matter how many hits Herrera suffered, he couldn’t be knocked out.
“It was great team baseball,” he said. “I concentrated on pounding the strike zone and let the defense make plays for me. My arm felt better tonight than all season. They got a couple of hard hits off me, but if you scatter them around and focus on making good pitches then good things will happen.”
Herrera (3-2, 4.79 ERA) is the only Stars starter to beat the Pacifics, except for ace Ronnie Loeffler, who has three wins over them. San Rafael is 10-5 against Hawaii; Stars reliever Roman Martinez got the other victory.
After walking Johnny Woodard to lead off the ninth, Herrera, 29, who played his college ball at the University of Texas, was pulled for reliever Cortney Arruda. The right-hander whiffed Maikel Jova, got Chase Fontaine on a flyout and struck out Hurst for the save.
“That felt good,” Arruda said. “I threw three straight sliders to Jova. I was hoping to get that save, and striking out Jova, I was happy for that.”
Jova, the league’s leading hitter with a .371 batting average, entered with just one walk in 163 at-bats.
It was an unusual night for Jova, who had a rare walk in the third inning and failed to come up with a hit, stopping his hitting streak at 37 games. He went 0-for-4.
“He had a couple hard hit balls against me, and he made good adjustments. That’s what good hitters do,” Herrera said. “Sometimes the soft ones fall in for hits and the hard-hit ones are caught. That’s baseball. I’m happy I ended his streak, but more happy that we got the win.
“I’d like to think that I stood tough. I try not to get too high or too low, stay even keel. I hung tough and never gave up. They hit me, but I kept coming right back in there.”
Hawaii left fielder Reece Alnas knocked home the go-ahead run in the eighth off Matt Stabelfeld, scoring Anthony Lopez, who earlier showed his base-running smarts. Lopez had an infield single, and advanced to second on a deep flyball to center field.
Alnas batted 2-for-4 with two RBIs, raising his batting average to .257. He also had a run-scoring double in the sixth that tied it at 4-4. Lopez also went 2-for-4.
“It felt good to get those hits. It’s always good to get hits, especially with the way I started the whole league,” Alnas said. “I definitely feel good that I’m getting back into the swing of things.
“Basically, I try to hit the fastball in fastball counts. It goes back to my days in Little League when my dad told me the best way to hit the curveball is not miss the fastball.”
Pacifics starter Jesse Garcia allowed three runs on five hits and one walk in four innings of uneven work, giving way to right-hander Matt Durkin, a familiar name to University of Hawaii baseball fans. Durkin pitched at San Jose State, UH’s former Western Athletic Conference rival. Both schools are moving to the Mountain West Conference.
Durkin, who was taken to the cleaners in the last series (1 1/3 innings and eight runs), took the loss after pitching 3 1/3 innings. He pitched better than his numbers — two runs on three hits — indicated. He struck out five and walked none.
Hawaii’s Steve Tedesco also extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a single up the middle in the third inning. He went 1-for-4, and he is batting .311.
There were no reprisals — not a hint of a pitch close to the helmet or ribs — against Pace, the Pacifics baserunner who knocked Hawaii catcher Jensen Torres unconscious in the ninth inning in a home-plate collision on Wednesday night.
In fact, Pace looked comfortable at the plate in the sixth and singled off Herrera, scoring Detwiler who earlier doubled for a 4-3 lead, which evaporated in a back-and-forth ballgame that much resembled a blow-for-blow boxing match.
Speaking of which, in the eighth round, a 32-year-old Ali knocked out Foreman, who shortly retired at age 28, regaining the world heavyweight championship. Ali was the last man standing, very much like Herrera.
Pacifics 020 011 000 — 4 10 1
Stars 011 101 01x — 5 9 1