By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Steve Raburn pitched a beauty of a game, something for him to savor because the Hawaii Stars pitcher knows how misfortune can strike at any time, and send someone tumbling back to square one.
The recent pick-up fired a three-hitter and the Stars continued their hot hitting to blank the Sonoma County Grapes 5-0 in a North American Baseball League game on a gorgeous Sunday at Wong Stadium.
The Stars (17-13) had a productive six-game series against the Grapes (10-20), winning five games, including four in a row. Second-place Hawaii next plays another six-game set at first-place San Rafael (19-11), starting Tuesday.
In his second appearance and first start in nearly two years, Raburn, who pitches out of the stretch, was equally efficient and effective. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander surrendered three hits and no walks, and struck out five, victimizing Joe Lewis three times for a hat trick.
Raburn (2-0, 0.87 ERA in 10 1/3 innings) required just 96 pitches, including 66 for strikes, to post his complete-game gem. He stranded three on base, including two in scoring position in the ninth, his only episode of trouble, getting a game-ending flyout.
One day after using Grapes pitchers as a pinata, pounding 17 hits in a 17-9 win on Saturday, the Stars went conservative and knocked around starter Matt Gibbs for 10 hits and five runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Rob Savarese pitched 1 1/3 innings, and Nick Alexander finished with an inning. It was a bit of redemption for Alexander, who got taken to the woodshed on Saturday; he gave up six runs and recorded no outs.
Keoni Manago batted 2 for 4, Adam Jacobs 2 for 3 and Jason Thomas 1 for 3 with two RBIs to lead the offensive charge for the Stars.
Covering four games, Manago, who went 5 for 5 on Saturday, was 9 for 9 at the plate. However, his perfect at-bat streak ended in the fifth inning when he reached on an error. In 24 at-bats, the former UH-Hilo outfielder is batting .417, the highest average on the team.
“Sometimes you see the ball well. That’s all it is,” he said. “When you’re seeing the ball well, you feel like you can hit anything or anybody. It’s one of those stretches. I’ve figured things out. I’ve been staying back and going the other way. It’s about finding my swing, and getting my confidence back.”
Hawaii right fielder Steve Tedesco was 1 for 4, extending his hitting streak to eight games. He’s now hitting .274.
Raburn, 23, is from Atlanta, Ga., and graduated in 2006 from North High in Bakersfield, Calif., where he was a projected as a high-round draft pick, in the days before the new Major League Baseball slotting system for signing bonuses.
“I was ranked top three in the state, but I’ve had a lot of misfortune. I could write a book,” he said. “I was in a pit crew during a race, and a car ran me over. It bruised my knee, separated my shoulder and gave me a concussion. I had short-term memory loss for two weeks.
“You can’t be hurt six months before the (June) draft. I was told I would go in the first five rounds. That would have been over $500,000. I would have taken anything to sign.”
If you think that’s a bummer, that’s small potatoes on the misfortune scale for Raburn, who also attended a few junior colleges in California before pursuing the road of an independent ballplayer.
After bouncing around on a few independent teams, Raburn went to the Arizona Winter League, a showcase indy pro league, earned a workout with the Toronto Blue Jays, and threw lights out, hitting 96 mph on the radar gun.
That got him an invite to spring training with the Blue Jays in 2011. There he was in camp, enjoying his second chance. Then misfortune fell from the sky, again.
“I was running, stepped on a baseball, and tore every ligament in my left knee,” he said. “It’s my first start since then. I’ve been coming out of the bullpen. I’m pretty proud of it.
“I was with Pecos, an independent league in New Mexico. I had only eight innings as their closer, and my scout (Dan Dixon of the Blue Jays) told me to get out of there. I’m working my way back into it. I can’t wait to call my scout and tell him I had zero walks.”
Misfortune struck him twice. But Raburn carries an unwavering attitude. He simply rolls with the punches.
“That’s baseball. Sometimes bad things happen to good sports,” he said. “I’ve been playing pro ball for three years. I’ve come to the decision you have be strong, and keep working.”
If Raburn needs a co-author, he can enlist his catcher, Jacobs, who’s a Cornell graduate with a business degree. He runs his own clothing line, stormthredz.com.
Jacobs, 26, had his own share of misfortune. In his senior year, Cornell was playing Darthmouth in the Game 3 final of the Ivy League championship. In the second inning, a baserunner barreled into him during a play at the plate.
“It blew out my knee,” he said. “I played two more innings. But I tore three of the five ligaments in my knee.”
Like Raburn, there was opportunity lost for Jacobs, who was an All-Ivy League player. He had a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds. But that was gone.
As a guy with a Cornell degree, Jacobs is often asked what’s a guy with an Ivy school education doing in an independent league?
“I love the game,” he said. “I have the rest of my life to find a real job. I want to play as long as I can.”
He was out the rest of his Cornell senior year in 2009 as well as the next year. Then he went to the Arizona Winter League, and got hooked up with the Frontier League in 2011. Jacobs also spent sixth months in the Australian League, which is partly funded by MLB, before joining the Stars.
“There were a bunch of minor leaguers affiliated with the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres,” he said. “They were mixed with independent players like myself and Australians. It was great competition and got me ready to play here.”
Jacobs, like Raburn, just rolls with life’s punches.
“You can only control what you can control,” he said. “It’s been great here. The community has welcomed us with open arms, and the local guys have showed us around. We’ve had a good time.”
Besides his two hits, Jacobs also threw out a runner attempting to steal, stole a base, and scored from first on Angel Sanchez’ RBI double in the sixth inning, and got beaned.
“It’s just another day in the life of a catcher,” he said.
Grapes 000 000 000 — 0 3 1
Stars 102 002 00x — 5 10 1