Las Vegas Sun

December 9, 2023

Stars turn tables; blow out Rainiers

In the grand scheme of things, the Las Vegas Stars' 11-4 victory over the Tacoma Rainiers seemed like just another exercise in playing out the final two weeks of the first half.

But taken in the context of the Stars' seven-game losing streak, it was a monumental victory on two fronts.

"This is a big win for me because I haven't won a game here for two years, but it seems like we haven't won a game for that long, either," said Stars right-hander Kerry Taylor, who turned in 7 1/3 solid innings Tuesday night at Cashman Field.

"It was good for the team, not only to win the way we did, to let us know that we can blow a team out and we can hold down the other team. After being blown out so many times, it makes you wonder if we can be on the winning side of a game like that."

Taylor limited the Rainiers to three runs on eight hits and batterymate Eric Helfand went 5-for-5 with a home run, three doubles and five RBIs as the Stars won at home for the first time since May 17 -- a span of eight games.

Helfand hit his fifth home run, a solo shot, in the third inning to give the Stars a 1-0 lead, singled in two runs in the fourth as Las Vegas went ahead 4-0, then doubled in each of his next three trips to the plate, knocking in two more runs with his double in the eighth.

"I don't think I've ever been 5-for-5," Helfand said. "But it's much more important getting a win. It was a big game for us. It has been frustrating. But what's more important than anything else is that we played baseball right tonight -- the way it should be played.

"If we continue to do that, it will make it a lot easier to try to turn things around."

For the first time since they started their seven-game skid, the Stars seemed to do everything right Tuesday night. They received a strong starting pitching performance, got key hits in crucial situations, ran the bases well and played flawless defense.

"It's been a long time since we've seen that right there," said Stars manager Jerry Royster. "We did a lot of things right and it always looks a lot better when you pitch really good and we pitched really good tonight. It's a very big win and what makes it a big win is the way we did it -- we did it doing some stuff really good ... all the things that we haven't been doing that have really been constant.

"It's a long way home but it doesn't matter because this is something that we really, really needed; we really needed a victory. We knew we were eventually going to get it, but we didn't know if we were going to get if after eight in a row, nine in a row or what."

After hitting a home run, a single and a double in his first three at-bats, Helfand needed only a triple to hit for the cycle. It appeared as if he would complete the rarity with one out in the seventh inning when he lined a pitch down the right-field line and into the corner.

Although Helfand was pulling into second base as Tacoma right fielder Raul Ibanez was picking up the ball, Helfand stopped at second. Royster, who was coaching third base, appeared to kick at the ground in disgust that Helfand didn't try to stretch it into a triple.

"I wanted him to come," Royster said. "I thought he should have tried it -- there was one out and he had an opportunity to try for it so he should have. But it's his call, he knows where the ball is, he knows what he's doing.

"But it shows you he wasn't thinking about anything except for doing what he was supposed to do and doing it right. It was very unselfish."

Helfand, who is 16-for-25 (.640) in his past nine games and has raised his average from .197 to .326, said he was more concerned with helping the Stars snap their losing streak than hitting for the cycle.

"Honestly, I'm not thinking about that," Helfand said. "I'm just trying to go up there and put a good swing on the ball and every once in a while, you get lucky."

Taylor, who earned his first win in six starts with the Stars, said he had a little luck on his side as well.

"My curveball and my changeup just weren't there tonight, so my fastball had to be extra-fine and I feel I was hitting my spots," Taylor said. "Some days you feel like crap and you do well and other times you feel great and you get bombed -- you never know what to expect. But I did feel good out there and it's nice to feel well and do well on the same day."