HILO — Arnoldo Ponce was feeling his like his old self again and couldn’t stop smiling — not after the Hawaii Stars won in walk-off fashion and his batting stroke appeared in fine form.
Who could blame him for grinning? After all, the Stars shortstop entered Tuesday’s game against the Sonoma County Grapes batting just .205, barely above the Mendoza line.
Ponce got healthy in a hurry, stinging the ball and going 3-for-4 with an RBI in Hawaii’s 7-6 victory over the Grapes Tuesday night in a North American Baseball League game at Wong Stadium.
The Stars (13-12) and Grapes (9-16) play at 5:35 p.m. today. Dallas Mahan (0-3, 4.13 ERA) is scheduled to start for Hawaii, which has won four straight.
In the ninth, Matt Hibbert reached on an error, and Dion Pouncil had a bunt single against Vinny Pacchetti. Then Anthony Lopez, Hawaii’s hottest hitter with a .337 batting average, walked to load the bases with no outs.
Brendan Davis hit a fielder’s choice dribbler, and Hibbert raced home, making a winner of Steve Raburn, a new pick-up, who blew the save in the eighth as Hawaii squandered a four-run lead.
Hawaii starter Ronnie Loeffler carried a 6-2 lead into the eighth inning before losing the lead. He’s still unbeaten in five starts at home. He’s 4-1 with a 4.01 ERA.
“In the eighth inning, I got tired. I wanted to close out and get the win,” he said. “It doesn’t always go that way. But I’m happy we came out with the win.”
Ponce gave the offense a good kick in the pants, and so did right fielder Steve Tedesco, who came in batting just .203 and went 3-for-5. Now, Ponce and Tedesco are on a hitting elevator, each raising their batting average to .230.
The Stars got comfortable later in the game, scoring six runs over the fourth and fifth innings off Grapes starter Matt Gibbs. Ponce had an RBI single in the fourth to spark things.
“Right now I’m seeing the ball good,” Ponce said. “I was working in the cage before the game, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. When I have two strikes, I go lower (with my stance) to see the ball more.
“In some games, I would have one hit in five games. I had a three-hit game, and the old Ponce is coming back.”
Adam Jacobs had an RBI groundout in the fourth, and two unearned runs scored in the fifth on an outfield error by George Ban, who overran the ball. Dion Pouncil’s fielder’s choice RBI grounder accounted for the other run.
Stars manager Garry Templeton Jr. knew it was only a matter of time before Ponce’s bat would heat up.
“His bat has been slow to come around, but I wasn’t too worried about his hitting,” he said. “Sometimes the veterans take longer to get going. He’s proven in the past he can pick up and swing a bat. Guys like him don’t last 10 years playing ball for nothing.”
Ponce, who was born in Venezuela, was in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system from 1998 to 2004, was released by the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training the next year, and has found various homes in indy ball ever since.