Through extra innings and late leads lost, the Helena Brewers’ first five games of the season felt much, much longer.
But those frustrations faded Saturday night, as the Brewers dealt a 16-9 shellacking to the visiting Billings Mustangs at Kindrick Legion Field. The game, taken in by 661 fans, wasn’t really even that close, but a forgettable ninth inning saw 16 of the first 20 pitches go for balls, reliever Braulio Ortiz struggling through just a third of an inning, allowing four runs on four walks.
Rodrigo Benoit came in to finish it out and the Brewers turned a double play to stop the bleeding and give the team win No. 1 of the 2017 season.
“It’s a good one. Just to get the first one out of the way, and hopefully we can get on a little streak,” said Helena catcher Payton Henry. “We’re a good team. We just put it all together tonight -- it was good to see.”
The onslaught began in the second inning.
The bottom half of that frame showed that if hitting is contagious, so, too, are misplaced pitches. The Billings staff went through three pitchers before the visitors escaped to the third. That group gave up a pair of home runs, hit two batters -- both times bringing in a run -- and allowed a score on a wild pitch.
All told, Helena piled up eight runs in the frame. It took 54 minutes for the game to move into the third inning.
The pitching struggles continued in the third for Billings, where the Mustangs walked in a pair of runs to make it a 10-1 game.
Billings did some damage with the long ball, scoring four runs on three home runs. But Helena answered in the bottom of the ninth with their own deep shot – maybe the deepest of the season, as Henry crushed the ball way over the scoreboard in center field to score three. Yeraldy Martinez followed with another three-run shot, this one to left field.
The margin had the game all but decided at that point, with things tightening up a bit in the ninth , but the Mustangs never seriously threatening.
Helena finished with 14 hits in the win, led by Pinero, who went 3 for 5 with a walk.
On the mound, the Brewers got a strong outing from Carlos Herrera, who picked up his first win of the season in his second start. In 5 innings of work, he gave up five runs on six hits, walking two and striking out eight. In relief, Andrew Vernon tossed 3 perfect innings, striking out four in his first outing with Helena.
“I feel like our whole team had a good approach today, especially at the plate,” said Henry, who turned 20 on Saturday. “Everybody’s hitting the ball hard, and they’re bound and determined to drop. We didn’t get a whole lot to drop before, and if we did got them early. But tonight we got ’em early, we got ’em late, we got ’em everywhere.
“We’re a good team. We’ve got a lot of young dudes on this team, and we just need to grow up a little bit and find a way to get the wins.”
Helena (1-5) will continue the series against Billings (4-2) in a Sunday afternoon contest, set to begin at 1:05 p.m. at Kindrick.