SAUGET — On a night when Christmas was celebrated six months early, Gateway Grizzlies hurler Tucker Jensen played the role of Scrooge of perfection on Tuesday at GCS Ballpark.
Jensen gave up next to nothing in a brilliant eight-inning outing against Frontier League East Division leading Evansville Otters as Gateway sent a crowd of 2,618 home happy with a 7-1 win Tuesday.
Entering the game with a 1.94 ERA, Jensen allowed a third inning run and just four hits while batterymate Landon Hernandez along with Jon Myers and Jose Flores drove in two runs each as the Grizzlies (22-11) drew first blood in the battle of the top two teams in the league.
Jensen allowed a third-inning run as the Otters (21-12) took an early 1-0 lead. But the 23-year-old righthander gave up little else in one of his best outings of the year.
In improving to 4-1, Jensen made just 97 pitches -- including 61 strikes in his eight innings of masterful work. Richard Barrett pitched a scoreless ninth inning for Gateway, whose 22 wins are tops in the Frontier League. The Grizzlies hold down first place in the West Division.
"I had good command of all my pitches tonight and unlike my last outing I was able to get ahead of the hitters. Fastball, curve ball, slider, I was able to throw them all for strikes,'' Jensen said. "The defense was outstanding. I have the utmost confidence in all those guys behind me.''
Chris McClendon broke a 1-all tie with a run scoring double and Hernandez followed with a two-run double to highlight a four-run Gateway third inning as the Grizzlies took a 4-1 lead.
Myers added a pair of run scoring hits while Flores hit a solo home run in the eighth inning. But it was Jensen who stole the show on this steamy night at the ballpark.
"Outstanding, Tucker was able to get ahead of the hitters. He had a great sinker and got a lot of ground ball outs and he threw a lot of first pitch strikes tonight,'' Grizzlies manager Phil Warren said. "Offense, defense, pitching, it was a good effort all the way around tonight.''
Both Jensen and Otters starter Matt Zielinski were flawless in coasting through the first two innings without allowing a baserunner.
But it was Jensen who blinked first in the top of the third inning.
Otters leftfielder J.R. Highly led off with a single and went to second on a single by Chris Nester.
With a 1-0 count on Evansville third baseman Chris Munoz, Hernandez attempted to pick Nestor off first base but the ball sailed over the high into rightfield and both runners moved up a base.
One out later, John Schultz gave the Otters a 1-0 with a sacrifice fly.
The Grizzlies didn't wait long to respond in the bottom of the inning.
Vladimir Frias led off with a line drive double down the leftfield line. Zielinski then walked Antone DeJesus and hit Alex Guthrie with a pitch to load the bases with nobody out.
The Otters left-hander struck out Jonathan Johnson for the first out but Frias scored the tying run on a fielders choice by Jose Flores.
McClendon then picked on a 3-2 pitch for an RBI double and Hernandez followed when he belted a 2-2 delivery into the left-centerfield gap.
The ball landed on the warning track and bounced into the stands for a ground rule double, scoring both Guthrie and Flores to make the score 4-1.
The Grizzlies opened a nine-game home and single games with Evansville are set for Wednesday and Thursday with the Florence Freedom makes its way into GCS Ballpark beginning Friday for the first of three. Washington then comes to town for three games on July 2-4.