MIDLAND The Midland RockHounds were only one victory away from claiming the first-half title in the Texas League South Division.
Then they ran into Alex Fagalde.
Fagalde, making his Double-A debut, pitched eight shutout innings Monday and the Springfield Cardinals scored three runs in the seventh to spoil the RockHounds’ party with a 3-0 victory at Security Bank Ballpark in the final game of the first half.
The loss, combined with Amarillo’s 8-2 victory at Northwest Arkansas, left the RockHounds a half-game behind Amarillo in the South Division standings.
Fagalde (1-0) gave up just two hits and a walk while striking out four. He was perfect through three innings and faced just two over the minimum on 80 pitches.
“He pitched a terrific ballgame,” Springfield manager Joe Kruzel said of Fagalde. “He was able to keep the hitters off balance. He threw three or four different pitches for strikes, moved the ball around and let his defense work for him.
“You’ve got to give the kid a lot of credit. He had a tough travel day (Sunday), got in late, and was able to go out there and just pitch his game. He didn’t worry about what level he was at. He just pitched the way he normally pitches.”
RockHounds manager Scott Steinmann said it was simply Fagalde’s night.
“You’ve got to tip your cap to him,” Steinmann said. “We just didn’t get anything going against him.”
Steinmann said the RockHounds’ task was that much more difficult being the first team in the league to face Fagalde, who went 6-3 with a 1.99 ERA in 13 starts with Palm Beach in the Florida State League.
“You just haven’t seen him and there’s not much video of him,” Steinmann said. “You’ve just got to go out there old-school and take your best swing on his best pitch and go for it.
“He pitched backwards a little bit at times. He was hitting his spots. He did pitch up in the zone a little bit. He just commanded all his pitches tonight, which is hard to do.”
Midland’s best opportunity came in the fourth, when Luis Barrera singled on Fagalde’s first pitch of the inning. Mikey White then sent a liner into center on which Springfield center fielder Dylan Carlson made a diving catch while battling a tricky wind. Barrera, who was 2 for 4, was caught stealing for the second out. Tyler Ramirez worked a walk, but the RockHounds managed just two more base runners the rest of the night.
Dairon Blanco singled with two outs in the seventh and Barrera beat out a bunt single with one out in the ninth, but Springfield’s Junior Fernandez struck out the next two batters to earn his fifth save.
Midland starter Kyle Friedrichs (1-3) matched Fagalde through six innings before running into trouble in the seventh. He gave up three runs on eight hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
“He gave us six solid innings, then all of a sudden they put up three runs,” Steinmann said of Friedrichs. "It happened pretty quickly.
“He still had a low pitch count and was very efficient. He did a great job matching their starter.”
Springfield, which recorded just its eighth road victory of the season, got four of its hits in the seventh. Johan Mieses led off with a single and scored on Zach Kirtley’s one-out double. Chase Pinder, younger brother of former RockHound Chad Pinder, followed with a run-scoring single and Alberto Triunfel doubled in another run with two outs.
Mieses and Pinder each went 2 for 4 and Triunfel finished 2 for 3.
Midland shortstop Kevin Merrell turned a pair of double plays on line drives to help keep the game scoreless through the early innings. Mieses led off the second with a single, but Kirtley lined out sharply with the runner going to end the inning. In the fourth, a leadoff walk to Jose Martinez was erased when Justin Toerner lined into the second double play.