Valley Press Staff Writer
LANCASTER — Dan Gulbransen rallied the JetHawks with a home run in the sixth inning Monday night.
The JetHawks outfielder then proved he could win at small ball, too.
After whacking a game-tying grand slam earlier in the game, Gulbransen’s sac bunt in the eighth paved the way for Roberto Pena’s go-ahead RBI single as Lancaster rallied for a 6-5 win over Inland Empire.
“Being able to get the bunt down when I was asked to was huge,” said Gulbransen, who was given a shaving cream pie to the face after the game for his heroics. “I might be even more proud about the bunt than the home run.”
Added JetHawks manager Rodney Linares: “He won this game, not because of the grand slam, but because of the bunt.”
Lancaster, which improved to 30-22, sits two games behind Lake Elsinore for first place in the South Division. The JetHawks begin a three-game series on the road against the Storm starting today at 6:05 p.m.
In an energized clubhouse after the win, the JetHawks were well aware of how big the upcoming series was.
“There’s no question about it,” Linares said. “My philosophy is to win every series.
“They’ve been playing pretty well but we have been, too.”
The JetHawks trailed by five heading into the fifth before Rio Ruiz put Lancaster on the board with an RBI double.
Gulbransen then tied the game with a grand slam that banged off the right-field foul pole.
“I was kind of having a tough at-bat and was trying to fight for my life,” said Gulbransen, who knotted the score with two strikes and one out. “I got one I could square up … I was trying to steer it (fair) as best I could, that’s for sure.
“I saw it hit the pole and come back into play and it was a big relief.”
Gulbransen said he was glad to deliver after flying out to left with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth.
“When you have that exact same situation, you do your best to just stay in the moment,” Gulbransen said. “You kind of have that replay in your mind of what happened earlier. It was a new opportunity.”
Gulbransen’s second homer of the year set the stage for the JetHawks to take their only lead in the eighth.
After Danry Vasquez reached on a leadoff infield single, his fourth hit of the night, Gulbransen then executed a perfect sac bunt to move him into scoring position.
Pena, who stepped into the box 0-for-3 with a strikeout, then received a little help from Carlos Correa to put the JetHawks up 6-5.
“I was struggling in my first three at-bats … just swinging at bad pitches,” Pena said. “But then I talked to Carlos and asked if I could use his bat and try something different.
“It’s always exciting to get the winning RBI for your team.”
While the JetHawks were busying tying their biggest comeback of the season, reliever Daniel Minor continued a stellar run by tossing 2 2/3 innings of scoreless ball.
Minor has now gone 10 straight appearances without allowing a run, a streak that includes 15 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and eight hits allowed.
“I know I have a little streak going,” Minor said. “Now every time I’m out there I want to keep that going.
“Putting up zeros gives us a good chance to win.”
Said Linares: “That’s not without being noticed. He’s a big part of what we’re doing.”
Lancaster starter Gonzalo Sanudo put the JetHawks in an early hole by allowing five runs and seven hits in five innings.
Making his first home start since being called up from Low-A Quad Cities on May 15, Sanudo gave up a two-run shot in the second and a three-run homer in the third.
But thanks to a pair of clutch at-bats by Gulbransen, the JetHawks now find themselves knocking on the door for first place.
Before Monday’s game, Linares provided an update on a trio of players who are at extended spring training in Florida.
Brandon Meredith, who injured his left shoulder swinging in the batting cage a few weeks ago, has started baseball activities and is expected to return to Lancaster in 10-14 days.
Linares said he hadn’t heard much about Vince Velasquez, a right-hander who’s 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA who is dealing with a groin injury. Linares did say he didn’t expect Velasquez to return until the All-Star break or shortly after.
Mark Appel isn’t injured but was sent to extended spring training on April 26 after he struggled to adjust to the tandem rotation.
While Appel was expected to make his final appearance in Florida on Monday before likely being sent back to the JetHawks, Linares said he hadn’t heard anything definite on the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft.