ROUND ROCK, Texas – The Round Rock Express provided fans with plenty of Opening Day fireworks during and after Friday night’s 8-6 victory over the Iowa Cubs at Dell Diamond. Express LHP Chad Bell (1-0, 3.18) collected his first victory of the season with 2.2 scoreless innings of relief.
Cubs (3-6) starter RHP Drew Rucinski (0-2, 8.71) was tagged with the loss after allowing seven earned runs on five hits over 4.1 innings of work. Both of Rucinski’s losses this season came at the hands of the Express (6-3).
In a similar fashion to when the two teams faced off in Des Moines a week ago, the Express opened an early lead and never looked back. The first three batters of the game reached base safely as LF James Jones singled before SS Jurickson Profar doubled. A Justin Ruggiano walk loaded the bases before 1B Patrick Kivlehan drove home the inaugural run of the 2016 season at Dell Diamond with a sacrifice fly.
Perhaps wary of throwing a hittable pitch to the Pacific Coast League’s RBI leader CF Jared Hoying, Rucinski walked him on six pitches. A single off the bat of RF Ryan Strausborger scored Profar and Ruggiano, putting the Express up 3-0 and sending the crowd of 13,212 – the third-largest in Dell Diamond history – into a frenzy.
Iowa responded two innings later, cutting the Round Rock advantage to 3-2 thanks to a two-run double off the bat of SS Munenori Kawasaki that scored DH Ryan Kalish and 3B Kristopher Negron. The Cubs would later tie the game at three in the fifth. Kalish led off the inning with a double before advancing to third on a Negron groundout. Kawasaki then drove in his third run of the night on a fielder’s choice that allowed Kalish to score from third.
On a night when there was a bit of added electricity in the air thanks to a flurry of Opening Day festivities, the Express bats would come to life again in the fifth. Just like in the opening frame, the first three batters would reach safely as C Patrick Cantwell started with a walk. Jones singled then Profar singled and advanced to second on the throw, scoring Cantwell and sending Jones to third on the play. In the next at-bat, Ruggiano delivered, launching a pitch into center field that allowed Jones to tag and score on the sacrifice.
An intentional walk to 3B Joey Gallo loaded the bases and ended the night for Rucinski. With RHP Stephen Perakslis on to pitch, Kivlehan singled to drive home Profar. A force out from Hoying scored Gallo, who represented the fourth and final run of the inning for the E-Train.
Round Rock added what proved to be an important insurance run in the seventh as Strausborger took a pitch off the hand with the bases loaded. Gallo, who doubled then advanced to third on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Kivlehan earlier in the frame, trotted home to score the eighth run of the game for the home team. Ruggiano and Hoying also drew walks in the inning but Perakslis and fellow reliever LHP C.J. Riefenhauser were able to limit the damage to just one run.
The Cubs made things interesting in the eighth as LHP Luke Jackson walked RF John Andreoliand C Willson Contreras before being relieved by RHP Jesus Pirela. 1B Dan Vobelbachconnected on Pirela’s fourth pitch of the night, blasting a three-run home run deep onto the berm in right field. Pirela would work around a catcher’s interference call that resulted in LF Juan Perezreaching safely, a single and a walk to prevent Iowa from further cutting into Round Rock’s advantage.
LHP Jimmy Reyes came on for the ninth, looking to bury any memories of last night’s debacle and send the near-capacity crowd home happy. The lefty did exactly that, retiring the side in order on just 11 pitches, including an electrifying strikeout of 2B Arismendy Alcantara that sealed the deal for Round Rock.
This weekend’s home opening series continues tomorrow evening as the Express look to go 6-0 against the Cubs this season. First pitch with Express RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez facing off against CubsRHP Michael Wagner is set for 6:05 p.m. The first 3,000 fans through the gates at Dell Diamond will be treated to a Round Rock cap giveaway, courtesy of the Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships. Following the contest, LC Rocks will take the stage in the first of five St. David’s Postgame Concerts, presented by Dell.