STOCKTON – Never in his life has Stockton Ports pitcher Brian Howard been named to any all-star team, that is until it was announced Monday that he’ll be going to the 2018 California League All-Star Game with seven other teammates in Lancaster.
Joining Howard will be Dairon Blanco, Skye Bolt, Jonah Heim, Kevin Merrell, Nate Mondou, Parker Dunshee and Miguel Romero. It’s the most number of players the Ports have sent to the game in manager Rick Magnante’s tenure. The All-Star Game is scheduled for June 19.
“It says that yes, we have some talented players on our ballclub, there’s no doubt,” Magnante said. “And when you win, that reflects on your performance as well. If the team is winning, there’s probably a good chance there are players who are having individual success as well.
“We have talented players, we have talented people and we have a chance to have a special season in Stockton this year.”
That talent was on display Monday night at Stockton Ballpark as 1,675 fans saw the Ports defeat the San Jose Giants 5-4. With the win, and Visalia’s loss to Modesto, the Ports (40-24) won the California League’s North division first-half title for the first time since 2003. They are assured a ticket to the playoffs at season’s end.
After the final out, the Ports rushed the field and began a celebration that eventually carried into the locker room.
The Giants (32-32) nearly delayed the party by loading the bases in the top of the ninth inning and down two runs with one out. Andrew Tomasovich allowed an RBI-single cutting Stockton’s lead to 5-4 before inducing a fly out to right field and a pop up to shortstop Kevin Merrell to end the game.
Dunshee earned the win by pitching 6 1/3 innings and giving up three runs on six hits with one walk and nine strikeouts. Offensively, Blanco hit two triples and scored twice. Stockton led 3-2 in the bottom of the second and sealed the game in the 5-2 after Heim and Blanco scored on Blanco’s second triple and a sacrifice fly by Luke Persico, respectively.
Howard’s 6-foot 9-inch frame on the mound makes him an intimidating right-hander hurler, and his 2.56 earned run average in his 63 1/3 innings and 0.98 WHIP put his squarely on the all-star roster.
“I definitely try to use my size to my advantage to throw downhill and use the angle I create naturally,” said Howard, a 2017 eighth-round draft pick. “I’m definitely very excited for (the all-star game). It’s definitely cool.
“If you’re lucky enough that they select you as an all-star midway through the season, you’re definitely very thankful and you want to keep throwing well to prove that they are right to select you as an all-star,” he added.
Dunshee, who matched Howard’s 2.56 ERA in the same 63 1/3 innings, said he and Howard are happy to have a potent lineup for run support.
“It’s a good thing to have in the back of your mind on the mound to know that if you can keep it close you’re going to have a chance to win the game,” Dunshee said.
He said Romero’s 13 saves and 1.84 ERA out of the Ports’ bullpen is legit.
“That’s one of the guys that’s probably a little bit too talented for this league,” Dunshee said. “He’s definitely overpowered people so far. He’s dicing guys up with his fast ball and slider combination, and split, too. He’s definitely a guy who attacks the zone and we’re confident with him on the mound.”
Blanco, whose 19 stolen bases is fifth-best in the league, and Bolt, who repeats as an all-star, are slated to be in the starting lineup.
“I’m super, super proud to be an all-star in my first year of professional baseball,” said Blanco, from Camaguay, Cuba. “It feels good to complete my goal to be a starter in the All-Star Game.”
“It’s an honor and a privilege - first and foremost - to be voted on by the rest of the league and my coaches,” Bolt said. “I came down with the goal of getting better and better with each game and each at bat. I’ve done that thus far and I’m going to continue to build on that.”
Oakland A’s pitcher Ryan Buchter, on a rehab assignment for a strained left shoulder, pitched one scoreless inning allowing one hit and one walk. Boog Powell, also rehabbing for a sprained knee, had a hit, a walk, an RBI, stole a base and scored.
The Ports have three more home games against the Giants, including a 7:10start tonight, before ending the first half of the season with three games at Modesto.
The Ports’ 40 wins this season so far is the most first-half victories since the 2008 season when Stockton won 42 games. Stockton’s last California League championship occurred in the 2008 season, its 11th in franchise history.