The Rochester Honkers couldn’t figure out Eau Claire Express starting pitcher Andrew Dean on Monday night.
Unfortunately for the Express, Dean couldn’t stay on the mound forever.
After the southpaw exited the game with seven scoreless innings of two-hit baseball, Eau Claire’s bullpen gave up the team’s one-run lead almost immediately on three singles in the first four batters it faced.
Prior to that, the Honkers had been set down in order from the third through seventh innings and hadn’t had a hit since the top of the first.
Rochester’s late rally gave the Honkers a 2-1 win over the Express at Carson Park, ending Eau Claire’s chances of a third consecutive win in a fashion that was tough to swallow.
“It does happen. You can have your best game and not get a win; you can struggle with your pitches and your team finds a way to get a win,” Dean said. “It’s just humbling. You’ve got to keep pitching the same way, and hopefully you get run support.”
Eau Claire had taken a 1-0 lead on a solo home run by Andrew Pratt on the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth. He slammed a line drive over the short porch in right field.
The Honkers had just one baserunner between the third and seventh innings. Alex Baeza drew a walk from Dean in the fifth, but was quickly picked off once he reached first base.
“I felt amazing. I felt like I wasn’t even pitching anymore, and it was kind of just happening for me,” Dean said. “I was just throwing pitches one by one, going with what my catcher was telling me to throw and it was working out.”
Dean’s standout performance went to waste though. The late Honkers rally spoiled the best start of the season for the left-hander from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
“Andrew Dean pitched the heck out of it,” Express manager Dale Varsho said. “He changed his speeds a lot. He did a great job of just filling up the zone and getting ahead.”
Dean finished with six strikeouts and lowered his season earned run average from 3.81 to 3.15.
“All four pitches were working for me tonight. Fastball, slider, curve ball, changeup, it was all going where it was supposed to go,” he said.
In their first at-bat of the game against somebody other than Dean, the Honkers cashed in on their new opportunity. Alex McGarry singled through the hole in the right side of the infield off Express reliever Jimmy Fouse. Rochester moved him to second base with a sacrifice bunt, and Mike Peabody sent another single through the right side to tie the game.
Just like that, the lead was gone.
The damage didn’t end there either. Peabody moved over to second on a wild pitch, and Jaylon McLaughlin drove him in with an RBI single not long after to put the Honkers up 2-1.
Rochester would have added another run in the top of the ninth if not for Express second baseman Scott Ogrin snagging a screaming line drive with the tip of his glove.
The ball off the bat of Nate Webb would have been an RBI single or more, as the Honkers had a runner on third base.
The Express, which hadn’t been great at the plate all night with the exception of Pratt, went quietly in the eighth and ninth. They left 10 men on base over the course of the game and never cashed in on any base runners.
“We had opportunities to score runs. We just didn’t have any timely hitting,” Varsho said. “We’ve got to do a better job of putting the ball in play.”