Bill on Baseball:Rosa completes Hoppers’ rally with long, high homer

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

***Rosa with a rip to right and into the night, gives the Hoppers another ‘Walk-Off’ Win***

It was a monster shot, headed toward the red neon Marriott sign a couple of streets beyond the right field fence.

No one doubted it had home-run distance, but it was hit so high there was a question of whether it was fair or foul. Home plate umpire Brian Peterson took a long look and finally pointed to fair territory. And that meant it was a walk-off, two-run homer for Viosergy Rosa that gave the Grasshoppers an improbable 10-8 win over Hickory Tuesday night.

While everyone waited for the umpire’s call, there was no doubt in Rosa’s mind.

“I 100 percent knew (it was fair),” Rosa said. “I don’t know if you noticed, but I started walking it from home plate.”

It was Rosa’s second home run of the game, giving him five for the season. And it was his second walk-off, the other one coming a week ago to provide a 9-8 win over Savannah.

Six home runs flew out of the park Tuesday, three by each team (two by Hickory’s Jorge Alfaro). Most were long ones on a night when the game began at 71 degrees and ended at 62.

“Thin air,” said Hoppers catcher Tony Caldwell. “It was the perfect temperature for home runs.”

So why was this an improbable win? Hickory had won seven straight and put up seven runs in the top of the fourth inning — including a two-run homer and a grand slam — to wipe out a 1-0 Hoppers lead. At that point, things looked dire.

But manager Jorge Hernandez told the team to keep battling and chip away and that’s what it did. The Hoppers scored a run in the fourth and another in the fifth to shave the deficit to 7-3. Rosa led off the bottom of the sixth with a homer and later in the inning Matt Juengel hit a two-run shot and suddenly it was a 7-6 game.

The Crawdads added another run in the top of the eighth but Juancito Martinez cracked a two-out, two-run double to tie it 8-8 and set up Rosa’s heroics.

“We’re not a team that’s going to roll over,” Rosa said. “We wanted to score every inning and hold them there. We battled and got some key hits from guys like Juancito and Juengel.”

It was also sweet redemption for Rosa. When the Hoppers opened the season on the road at Hickory, he went 0-for-15 with 11 strikeouts.

Perhaps the most important of the Hoppers’ 16 hits was the double by Martinez. The center fielder had struggled mightily to begin the season and entered the game hitting just .145, inlcuding 1-for-20 in NewBridge Bank Park. He struck out weakly his first at-bat, but got a single his next time up. Then he hit the ball sharply to shortstop and almost beat it out for an infield hit.

In the eighth inning, after Cody Keefer and Caldwell had gotten two-out singles, Martinez drove a pitch over the head of Hickory center fielder Lewis Brinson to score the runners and tie the game.

“He’s been showing flashes of better at-bats,” Hernandez said. “He came out early today and worked with (hitting coach) Frank Moore and it carried over. We need to get him going.”

Moore said Martinez was the team’s hottest hitter in spring training but then started taking too many pitches and got off to a slow start.

“People want to push the panic button but it’s a long season,” Moore said. “You can’t judge a player by the early results. Juancito can be a good all-around hitter and his speed will enable him to beat out a lot of infield hits. He just needs to get his confidence up and have better pitch recognition.”

The Hoppers and Hickory both have a record of 11-8 going into tonight’s second game of the series. Austin Brice will start for Greensboro and try to give the rotation something to build on. The starters have been shaky so far, although the bullpen has been solid. Jheyson Manzueta relieved Andrew Steckenrider and put in four solid innings, allowing only a solo homer while striking out six. Frank Reed picked up the win with a perfect ninth inning.