Unlike last season, comebacks have been a rarity for the 2016 Wilmington Blue Rocks. For just the second time this season, they walked off.
Down 2-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth, Elier Hernandez singled with one out. Robert Pehl followed with an RBI double. Up came catcher Luis Villegas, who had struck out twice prior. Villegas ripped a pitch from Frederick reliever Michael Zouzalik to the left field wall, tying the game at 2-2.
“As soon as I hit that ball in the ninth I knew it was going to be an extra base hit and as soon as I turned second base my legs gave out a little bit, but I made it to third safely so it’s all good,” Villegas said.
The craziest part of that hit was that Villegas never slowed down, hustling into third base. And his slide was priceless, especially considering he came up holding his leg earlier in the game on a foul pop up around home plate that he missed.
“My emotions were kind of getting the best of me at the end there and I was tired so I didn’t know whether to go in sliding or standing, so I just kind of threw myself at the bag and that’s how you got that slide,” Villegas said after the game.
“I don’t know if I would call that a slide when he [Villegas] went into third, I think it was more of a fall,” manager Jamie Quirk said after the win. “But I was happy for him. He hit that ball good and he made the right decision; he’s not a fast guy, but I could tell coming around second he wanted to get in there and that was all on him. He was gonna get to third with one out and he did a good job, but we’ll work on sliding tomorrow.”
After a Keys pitching change (which allowed Villegas to get a breather), Josh Banuelos struck out on three pitches for the second out. That brought up Alfredo Escalera, who dribbled a hit through the 3-4 hole to drive in Villegas to set off the celebration.
“That last at bat I was just trying to get a good swing on it and hit it hard somewhere,” Escalera said after the game. “After he [Keys reliever Jimmy Yacabonis] got me with two-strikes I was just trying to put the ball in play and, you know, things happen when you put the ball in play and I got that hole on the right side and I put it there and managed to get the base hit to win the game.”
Gatorade went spilling out into the jumping around pile at second base (though Escalera said he evaded the liquid, but one of his pitcher’s did not).
Escalera went 2-for-4 from the leadoff spot. He has begun to heat up at the plate now that he is batting in the top two spots in the order.
“My first two years when I signed and my years at AZL, Burlington, and Lexington, I led off for those three teams, and then last year I was more like 2, 3 and then 5,” Escalera said. “Then the beginning of this year I was at five, but since I got moved back to 2 and 1 I was like, “this is more like the old days.” It definitely feels good and I’ve hit there before so I’m more comfortable. I’ll do whatever the manager needs me to do, but you get more fastballs up in the order and you get more at bats so it helps in terms of getting my timing back.”
You can watch the whole interview below:
For eight innings, the Blue Rocks offense was held in check by Keys starter Mitch Horacek and Zouzalik. Their first base runner came in the fourth when Escalera walked to start the inning. Humberto Arteaga followed with a single to break up the no-hitter. In that inning, they stranded the bases loaded.
The Blue Rocks had two on and nobody out in the seventh, but couldn’t score. They also had two on, but two outs in the eighth.
With the comeback victory, starter Zach Lovvorn was taken off the hook from getting a hard luck loss (he is 0-5, but with a respectable 3.60 ERA). He allowed an unearned run in the third, that was it. He allowed six hits and hit a batter while striking out seven over six innings.
“Lovvorn gave up just one run, one unearned run, in six innings and he leaves the game with us behind and then they add one on so getting a no decision for him there was great because he has had a few of those where we let him down,” Quirk said. “We got him off of the hook and he did a great job. No earned runs. No walks was key and he pitched very well today.”
You can check out the first two batters faced by Lovvorn in the first:
Kyle Kubat, pitching in just his second game with the Blue Rocks and first at Frawley Stadium, pitched two scoreless innings of relief. Despite topping out at 86mph with his fastball (though the Blue Rocks radar gun may have been off a tad), he struck out two and walked one, without allowing a hit.
You can check out Kubat’s first inning of work in video in a later post. Fingers crossed that it will be later tonight if YouTube starts working faster.