Bill on Baseball:Gomez shines as Hoppers rally for 7-5 win

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Gomez shines as Hoppers rally for 7-5 win

A comeback win usually produces a number of heroes and the Hoppers had plenty of them Tuesday night.

Spotting Augusta a 4-0 lead, they stormed back to tie the game with four runs in the seventh inning, fell behind again 5-4, then put three more on the board in the eighth and held off the Greenjackets in the top of the ninth for a 7-5 win.

Six of the Hoppers’ runs were scored with two outs, so there were plenty of hitting stars. And there was some good pitching when it was needed most. But in the final analysis, this was The Anthony Gomez Game.

Gomez delivered five standout fielding plays, including one to end the game. He also chipped in with a two-out double in the seventh that drove in two runs, although that was almost overshadowed by his dazzling defensive performance.

“I felt pretty good in the field tonight,” he said in a classic understatement.

Let’s start with the last play of the game. After reliever Jheyson Manzueta disposed of the first two hitters, Alberto Robles got a single when second baseman Alfredo Lopez and right fielder Cameron Flynn tumbled over each other on the high popup. That brought up the swift Jesus Galindo, who grounded sharply up the middle.

Gomez darted to his left, gloved the ball behind second base, transferred it to his right hand and made a backhand flip to Lopez covering for the force-out that ended it.

“Before the at-bat, Alfredo told me the kid at the plate was really fast,” Gomez said, “so we were going to second base all the way. When the ball was hit, I just took off and hoped the grass would slow it down a little, which it did.”

Earlier in the ninth inning, Gomez went deep in the hole to spear a grounder by Eric Sim and his strong throw got the runner for the first out. He retired Rafael Rodriguez, a faster runner, on a similar play in the eighth. In the seventh, Gomez short-hopped a hot smash by Andrew Cain and got the out, then charged in to field a slow roller and threw out Robles by an eyelash.

“The ball you have to charge is the hardest play,” Gomez said. “It’s a finesse play and you don’t want to boot it. On the backhand play, you just pick and throw.”

Matt Juengel, the designated hitter, had a dugout view of the fielding highlights.

“Gomez was unreal,” Juengel said. “He made the hard plays look easy. On the one that ended the game, with the flip to Lopez, it looked smooth. You don’t see that very often. It was an impressive game.”

At the plate, Gomez’ one hit was huge. In the seventh inning, Juengel was hit by a pitch, went to third on a single by Cody Keefer and scored on a fielding error by Augusta third baseman Mitch Delfino. Lopez sacrificed the runners to second and third but Flynn struck out. That’s when Gomez lined a shot to the wall in center field for a double that scored two runs. He scored on a double by Jesus Solorzano to tie the game.

“I hit an elevated fastball,” Gomez said. “I got something to drive and just put it in play.”

Augusta grabbed the lead back on a solo home run, but the Hoppers weren’t through. Yordy Cabrera led off the eighth with a double and scored on Juengel’s single to right field. With two outs, Lopez kept the inning going with a single. Flynn hit a grounder that looked headed into right field but was smothered on a dive by second baseman Trevor Brown. He scrambled up and made a throw to first baseman Joe Rapp but Flynn beat it out for a hit.

On the play, Juengel was waved around third base by Hernandez and that seemed to catch Augusta off guard. Rapp threw home to Sim but Juengel scored easily for the go-ahead run. The Hoppers added an insurance run when Lopez scored on an error by Robles at shortstop.

“Jorge was waving me all the way,” Juengel said, “and I never broke stride. “It was a close play at first base and I don’t think they were paying attention to me.”

Hernandez called it “great baserunning by Juengel. He never hesitated and the first baseman never saw him.”

The victory went to Brian Ellington, who gave up one run in two innings of relief of starter Dejai Oliver. Manzueta recorded his second save but first in a ninth-inning situation.

“He can do anything,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley. “He’s not scared. He’s pitching with a lot of confidence right now and he just did what he does best, which is attack hitters.”

The Hoppers scored all their runs off three Augusta relievers. Starter Joan Gregorio shut them out on three hits through six innings.

“I knew when we got their starter out of there we had a chance,” Hernandez said. “He’s 6-7 with a good fastball and he kept us off-balance. But we took care of business against their bullpen.”

The teams play the second game of the series Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.