Brian Stephens sees a big difference between the Arizona League, where he was an all-star outfielder last season, and the Northwest League, where he plays right field this season for the Bellingham Mariners.
``The pitching here's a lot better,'' Stephens said after lining a one-out single to right field Thursday night to give Bellingham a 4-3 victory over the Boise Hawks and end the Baby M's seven-game losing streak.
``The guys down there usually are having problems with control,'' Stephens said. ``A lot of them are young, coming out of high school. Most of the guys here come out of college. They're coming right at you . . . throwing hard and throwing good curve balls. They know where they're going to throw and that's where it usually is. So you've got to be ready.''
Stephens, 20, a left-handed hitter signed as a free agent last summer out of Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College, leads Bellingham in batting (.346) and runs batted in (13).
But he was 0 for 4 going into the ninth inning Thursday and had left six men on base, flying out with the bases loaded in the third and striking out in a similar situation in the seventh.
``I was having a rough day until that last at-bat'' Stephens said. ``I tried to concentrate a little bit extra to get the job done. It's wonderful when you get an opportunity like that. I was really glad he didn't take me out. I've been swinging the bat well, seeing the ball good . . . hitting lefties real well. I'm just glad P.J. (Manager P.J. Carey) gave me a chance to prove that I could hit the ball.''
His ninth-inning line drive to right scored Ruben Santana from second, providing a winning ending to a game that James Converse got off to a brilliant start.
Converse, 19, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound right-hander just out of high school in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights, held the Hawks hitless for 6 1/3 innings in his fourth professional start. After issuing his third walk and giving up a line-drive single to J.R. Phillips with one out in the seventh, Converse left with a 1-0 lead (Greg Hunter's home run.)
Converse, Seattle's 16th-round draft pick last month, lost a chance for victory when Boise's Danny Gill hit reliever Kevin Yianacopolos' second pitch over the left-field fence. But Bellingham came back on Matt Kluge's two-run double in the seventh and Stephens' decisive single.
Converse (2-1, 3.22) was ``outstanding,'' said Gary Wheelock, Bellingham pitching coach. ``He was very aggressive. He threw hard - in the upper 80s definitely. He threw a lot of strikes.''
Stephens, meanwhile, said that facing better pitching ``only makes me better. It doesn't matter who's throwing. I'm going to take my hacks at him.
Right-hander Mike Walker (4-6, 4.87 ERA) turned in one of Calgary's strongest nine-inning pitching efforts of the season when he limited Las Vegas to six hits and three runs in nine innings. The Cannons, who trailed 3-0 going into the ninth, tied the score on Keith Miller's bases-loaded double. They won 6-3 for reliever Keith Helton on Jim Weaver's three-run homer in the 10th.
AROUND THE FARMS
First baseman Ruben Gonzalez, who led the California League in batting (.308), homers (27) and RBI (101) for San Bernardino last season, rejoined the Spirit Friday. Gonzalez has played only seven games this year. He underwent surgery after suffering a broken wrist the first week of the season at Class AA Williamsport.
BEST OF REST
BATTING (minimum 50 at-bats) - Merchant (San Bernardino, A) 28/73, .384, (Williamsport AA) 28/156, .179; Manahan (SB) 33/95, .347; Stephens (Bellingham, A) 18/52, .346; Newfield (Tempe, Rookie) 19/56, .339; Brundage (W) 33/99, .333; Bolick (Stockton-SB) 91/277, .329; Jones (SB) 49/151 .325; Clark (SB) 81/251, .323, (W) 16/82, .195; Brannon (T) 17/53, .321; Nava (B) 19/63, .302; Pirkl (SB) 61/207, .295; Lennon (W) 31/105, .295; (SB) 47/163, .288, Barbara (Peninsula, A) 60/204, .294; Turang (SB) 89/306, .291.
Doubles - Clark (SB-W) 17, Bolick (Stock-SB) 17, Turang (SB) 15, Keitges (SB) 15, Stargell (SB) 13, Bowie (W) 12, Campanis (P) 12.
Triples - Lennon (SB-W) 6, Maynard (SB) 5, Turang (SB) 4, Bolick (Stock-SB) 4, Pennington (W) 3, McDonald (W) 3, Pezzoni (P) 3.
Home runs - Bolick (Stock-SB) 14, Clark (SB) 12, Stargell (SB) 11, Lennon (SB-W) 10, Turang (SB) 8, Bailey (P) 7, Jones (SB) 7, Keitges (SB) 6, Pirkl (SB) 5.
RBI - Bolick (Stock-SB) 70, Stargell (SB) 62, Clark (SB-W) 54, Turang (SB) 49, Lennon (SB-W) 41, Keitges (SB) 39, Bowie (W) 36, Campanis (P) 32, Pilkinton (P) 31, Pennington (W) 30.
Stolen bases - Maynard (SB) 68, T. Williams (W) 34, Pezzoni (P) 19, Tavarez (P) 19, Turang (SB) 17, Stargell (SB) 15, Lennon (SB-W) 13, Twitty (B) 10.
Earned-run average (minimum 25 innings pitched) - Pena (T) 1.29 (21 ip), Poissant (P) 1.52 (29 2/3 ip), Czarkowski (P) 1.65 (49 ip), Gardiner (W) 1.83 (108 1/3 ip), Delucia (W) 1.90 (80 1/3 ip), (SB) 2.05 (30 2/3 ip); Balabon (P) 2.65 (102 ip), (W) 4.50 (12 ip); Cummings (B) 1.96 (23 ip), Balabon (P) 2.65 (102 ip), (W) 3.79 (19 ip); Ridenour (W) 2.85 (47 1/3 ip), Green (B) 2.86 (22 ip), Converse (B), 3.22 (22.1 ip), Woodson (SB) 3.24 (108 1/3 ip).
Winning pct. (minimum 3 decisions) - Pitcher (SB) 3-1, .750; Perkins (T) 3-1, .750; Jones (SB) 5-2, .714; Converse (B) 2-1, .667; Taylor (SB) 7-4, .636; Czarkowski (P) 3-2, .600; Balabon (P-W) 7-6, .538.
DeLucia (SB-W) 8-6, .571; Furcal (SB) 5-4, .556; Blueberg (W) 7-6, .538, Evans (SB) 8-7, .533.
Saves - Newlin (SB) 12, Poissant (P) 9, Wiggs (SB) 7, Ridenour (W) 5, Figueroa (W) 4, Rojas (W) 4, Loe (P) 3, Rivas (P) 3.
Strikeouts - Balabon (P-W) 119, Woodson (SB) 99, Salkeld (SB) 96, Gardiner (W) 87, Evans (SB) 85, Delucia (SB-W) 81.