BELLINGHAM - This wasn't how the Bells anticipated starting their three-game home stand, but manager Gary Hatch gave a reason his club appeared sluggish with a memorable adage.
"Here's the deal," he said. "It's that old violinist thing. You take a day off, I notice it. Take two days off, my wife notices it. Take three days off, the audience notices it."
Bellingham returned to the diamond Thursday evening, June 27, at Joe Martin Field following a two-day hiatus thanks to back-to-back rainouts on the road at Kitsap.
The layoff showed in Bellingham's play, especially at the plate. The Bells' bullpen struggled, too.
Walla Walla's 6-foot-6 left-handed starter Chris Lovejoy tossed eight innings of one-run, six-hit ball, while Bellingham's relievers gave up seven earned runs in four innings of work, as the Bells lost 8-1 - their most lopsided defeat of the season - in the series opener of a West Coast League matchup.
Bellingham starter Andrew Olson pitched five strong innings, giving up one earned run on seven hits and six strikeouts, but took the loss.
Olson kept the Bells in the game, but Bellingham's typically strong-hitting group couldn't solve Lovejoy.
"Those soft left handers can be a pain in the rear," Hatch said, "but give him credit. He threw strikes, and has us a little bit off-balance, and anytime you go eight innings against this team, you've done a job."
Lovejoy didn't give up a hit until Bellingham shortstop Johnny Farrington hit a ground ball along the third-base line that Walla Walla was unable to handle.
Back-to-back hits by Bells' Ryan Yamane and Michael Annunziata and a walk by Jack Meggs loaded the bases in the fifth, but center fielder Johnny Sewald flew out to left, halting the rally.
Farrington, who recorded two of Bellingham's six hits, led off the sixth and stroked a single into left. He followed the hit with some heads-up base running, advancing to third on an Alex Calbick single. Catcher RJ Ybarra scored Farrington from third with a sac fly to center for the Bells' lone run, which cut Walla Walla's lead to 2-1.
Then Bellingham's relief pitchers began struggling. Will Dennis entered in the seventh, but only lasted a third of an inning after giving up a single followed by a walk and two hit batsmen. He was eventually charged with four earned runs after Aaron Sandefur entered and gave up a two-RBI single to Walla Walla's Reggie Southall, who went 3 for 4, and a two-RBI double to Kramer Lindell.
The Sweets had built a 7-1 lead after seven and added another run in the eighth.
"Our bullpen wasn't quite as good as it's been, but I thought Andrew (Olson) did a fine job," Hatch said. "This is as much of a lull as I've seen in this group all season long, but we got the guys to get back into the groove again."
The loss dropped Bellingham's record to 10-6, which moves the club into the tie for second with Walla Walla in the WCL's North Division.
The Bells face the Sweets in game two at 7:05 p.m. Friday, June 28, at Joe Martin Field.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
WALLA WALLA 8, BELLINGHAM 1
Walla Walla 000 011 510 - 8 14 2
Bellingham 000 001 000 - 1 6 1
WP: Chris Lovejoy (2-0). LP: Andrew Olson (0-1). Highlights: Bells: Johnny Farrington 2-4; Ryan Ybarra RBI.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.