Lehigh Valley returned to .500 (37-37) with a 4-3 walk-off victory at Coca Coal Park Thursday night courtesy of a ninth inning comeback. Maikel Franco had the winning hit.
Following two come-from-behind victories in the four-game Charlotte series at home, it came as no surprise that the confident ‘Pigs would make some noise in game four. They needed the game to take the series, and return to .500 on the year. While they remain 6.5 back of division-leading Syracuse, they do climb into third place and improve their “Last 10” to 5-5.
Chris Bootcheck had the start, and cruised through the first four innings. He had some base-runners here and there on soft singles and the like, but was in control, and efficient with his pitches. The fifth inning was a little different. The ‘Pigs were ahead 2-0 on some small-ball and timely hitting. Former IronPig Michael Taylor stepped up, and crushed the first pitch he saw–a fastball over the meat of the plate–to the left-center wall for a double.
[Aside: I’m a Michael Taylor fan. And that was a nice hit. When he was DFA’d by Oakland earlier this year I hoped the Phillies would pick him up. When I heard that he might be traded, that was my thought again. Then, when I heard he was going to Chicago in a White Sox trade, I checked my schedule for the Knights visit. Frankly, he didn’t look terribly good this series. Now, nobody ever asked me to be a scout, but, to me, he looked like an older, slower version of John Mayberry Jr. I wish him well, and hopefully he’s just getting re-acclimated to the International League.}
Following a Bootcheck fumble (balk), and a strikeout, Sanchez went to the deepest part of the field on one of those back-spin rising homers that just barely cleared the wall. With the game tied, Bootcheck walked the next two batters quickly. Finally, with Camp warming in the pen, he got a pop-up to get out of the inning. I figured his night was done, but he came back out and worked a very efficient sixth and seventh.
Shawn Camp had one of those innings. He came in for the eighth in a 2-2 game and the first batter sprayed a single to right field. A sac bunt put the runner on second with one out. Then, a fly ball to right field which should have put the runner on third, at best, was misplayed by usually-an-infielder Rusty Ryal, and the runner scores easily to give the Knights a lead late in the game. The veteran Camp got out of the inning despite the new runner on second, though, to keep the ‘Pigs in the game.
The home team couldn’t get a thing going in the bottom of the eighth, and BJ Rosenberg came on to pitch the away-ninth. It was clean, and the ‘Pigs came up in the bottom of the ninth with 7-8-9 due up: Blanco-Spears-Ryal.
Andres Blanco went 3-for-4 on the night, with a run scored. He lead off the final frame with a line single to center. Nate Spears, who had already had a couple of sacrifices in the game, then bunted one–seemingly off his face–to get Blanco to second.
Then, up steps Rusty Ryal. Pressed into duty as an outfielder with Tyson Gillies on the bench and Leandro Castro with a possible injury, he’s got one out and the the tying run at second. A liner to left tied the game. It was not without some drama, as Manager Dave Brundage hesitated for a second, then sent the runner Blanco. If the throw from Tuiasosopo had been good, Blanco would have been out by a mile.
However, the throw was up the line, and Blanco scored easily despite the hesitation. Ryal went to second on the throw, and then Veal “Parm” intentionally walked lead-off hitter and righty Tyler Henson to face Professional Hitter Steve Susdorf. Steve grounded into a force at second, which was a questionable play in and of itself, but hustled to beat out any chance for a double play. Up steps young Maikel Franco with runners at the corners, and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Game tied.
And so it was: The second walk-off of the season (Hanzawa had one on an education day earlier this season) and just about my favorite thing to see at the park.
Tomorrow, the ‘Pigs welcome Columbus for their annual four-game set in Allentown. It’s the normal black-out Friday for fireworks, but not the normal jerseys: The Pigs will wear “Batman” jerseys, to be auctioned off for IronPigs Charities after the game.
More on the weekend series, stadium happenings, roster possibilities, and NoiseNation Events, in the morning.