STOCKTON — Chase Calabuig went through 235 at-bats before hitting his first home run in professional baseball.
And boy, did Calabuig’s blast come at a great time for his Stockton Ports.
The 22-year-old rookie’s solo shot padded the lead for the Ports, and Stockton led the Visalia Rawhide 6-4 midway through six innings in Game 2 of the Cal League North Division Championship Series on Thursday at Stockton Ballpark.
The Ports went on to win 8-7, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and holding off a three-run barrage from Visalia to even the playoff series at 1-1.
Brett Siddall, Edwin Diaz and Calabuig each had two RBI for Stockton, which now heads to Visalia for the next two games of the series.
The Rawhide took Game 1 of the best-of-five set 5-3 on Wednesday behind Marcus Wilson’s three-run homer in the ninth. Game 3 is today in Visalia, and Game 4 would be Saturday in Visalia. Game 5, if needed, would be Sunday in Stockton.
Calabuig’s homer came three innings after he ripped an RBI double to score leadoff man Kevin Merrell. The lefty Calabuig is not normally a power threat – he had one homer as a senior at San Diego State – but mustered pro-level pop on Thursday.
Calabuig went straight from the Oakland A’s rookie league to Stockton – a few months after polishing off his San Diego State career – in part because the Ports saw their loaded roster depleted by promotions to Double-A Midland, Texas.
But Calabuig has jumped on his opportunity, and his two RBI through the first five innings helped to rejuvenate Stockton the day after a heartbreaking loss.
The slender center fielder was the 803rd pick of the draft (27th round by the A’s), and watched Cal League games at Lake Elsinore in elementary school.
“First thing I thought about when I was drafted was the late nights with my dad,” Calabuig, a second cousin to former A’s catcher Ron Hassey, told The Record in July. “I was 12 years old when I really realized (pro baseball) was something I wanted to do.”
The Stockton shortstop Merrell led off the bottom of the first with a sharp single – extending his hitting streak to 16 games. Merrell came home on Calabuig’s double, and Viosergy Rosa plated Calabuig with an RBI single.
In the third, third baseman Edwin Diaz belted a two-run triple off the very top of the right-center field wall. Diaz came home in the next at-bat, as Sandber Pimentel chopped a sharp single past Visalia third baseman Drew Ellis – who was playing in ironically to try and prevent a run.
Ports reliever Andrew Tomasovich ran into trouble in the fifth, loading the bases with no outs and allowing a run before inducing pop-outs from Ellis and Daulton Varsho. Jake Bray then relieved Tomasovich, and walked Marcus Wilson – who at the time had two home runs in his past two at-bats – to cut the lead to 6-4.
Finally, though, Diaz made a superb running play on a foul fly down the left field line, sliding for a moment in the dirt and kicking up a cloud of dust in the process.
Stockton was the first half North Division champion and split the second half crown with Visalia. The Ports are 11-time Cal League champions and are seeking their first banner since 2008.