Pintor’s First Career Homer, a Grand Slam, Carries Hoppers
The smallest Hopper produced the game’s biggest swing Sunday afternoon.
Luis Pintor – listed at 5-feet-9 (which might be a stretch) and 170 pounds – ripped a grand slam home run to propel the Hoppers to a 6-3 win over Hickory at First National Bank Field.
It was an important bounce-back win for the Hoppers, following Saturday’s 8-4 loss, enabling them to take the season-opening series from the Crawdads three games to one.
Pintor, a 21-year-old infielder from Puerto Rico, played in the Gulf Coast League last season and didn’t hit a homer in 31 games. But when he came to the plate in the second inning Sunday, he found the bases loaded.
“It was a big opportunity to put some runs on the board,” said Pintor, with teammate Alex Mateo translating. “I’m not a guy who hits home runs, but I always try to put my best swing (on the pitch).”
He put one of his best swings on an inside fastball from Crawdads starter Edgar Arredondo and lifted it well over the left-field fence. Scoring ahead of him were Branden Berry, who had singled; Boo Vazquez, who walked; and Jarrett Rindfleisch, who was hit by a pitch.
The Hoppers added two more runs in the inning to flesh out the lead to 6-0.
Asked if he knew the ball was going out, Pintor smiled and said, “Of course.”
A backup utility man who can play third base, shortstop and second base, Pintor will have limited opportunities but has to be ready to make the most of them.
“I try to stay positive and be a sparkplug,” he said of his role.
Manager Todd Pratt said Pintor is solid, even spectacular, defensively at all three positions.
“The more confidence he gets, the more games he’ll have like that,” Pratt said. “That home run opened up the game for us and the extra two runs allowed us to breathe.”
The cushion proved enough. Hickory shaved three runs off the deficit but Greensboro pitching shut the Crawdads down in the sixth through ninth innings.
Left-hander Dylan Lee pitched well in his first start, allowing one run in four innings, before his pitch count ran out. Sam Perez gave up two solo home runs to the first three batters he faced, then righted himself and retired seven of the next eight. He became the winning pitcher.
“Lee pounded the zone but got a lot of foul balls in the third and fourth innings and that ran up his pitch count,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “It was a great effort. He was aggressive with his fastball and used his changeup well.
“Perez was a little timid in his first inning and that isn’t him. At the end of the inning we talked about him attacking the zone and using his two-seam fastball and that’s what he did.”
Marcus Crescentini got the final out of the seventh inning and quickly disposed of the first two hitters in the eighth. Then he walked Ti’Quan Forbes and Preston Scott, two dangerous hitters, to make things interesting. He recovered to strike out Ricky Valencia to end the inning.
L.J. Brewster, who picked up the victory in the first game of the series Thursday, entered in the ninth and earned the save by getting three ground-ball outs around a single.
Hickory hit 10 home runs during the series, but nine of them were solo shots.
“You have to credit the pitching staff for not giving up home runs with men on base,” Pratt said.
The Hoppers begin a three-game series at home Monday against Delmarva. Michael King, the No. 5 starter, will be on the mound for the 7 p.m. game.
NOTES: There was an odd play in the Hoppers’ big inning with Garvis Lara on third and Aaron Knapp on first. Knapp broke for second base and got hung up while Lara broke for home. Lara crossed the plate and Knapp appeared to be tagged out, but was awarded second base. The scoring was that both runners advanced on “a caught stealing error” (essentially, an interference call) by second baseman Blaine Prescott. Neither runner was credited with a stolen base and Knapp was charged with a caught stealing … Pintor also had a long single in the third inning and ended the day 2-for 4 … Berry had two hits and added a fine diving catch of a line drive at first base, his first start there after two games at third.