Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers prevail in a weird one

Hoppers prevail in a weird one
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

A game that had more than a touch of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (for those of you who remember that comics page feature) produced three unlikely heroes for the Hoppers Wednesday afternoon.

Coco Johnson, mired in a 5-for-36 slump entering the game, slammed a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to provide the Hoppers with a 7-5 win over the Lakewood BlueClaws.

Kentrell Dewitt, scuffling in a 6-for-37 drought, got the Hoppers back in the game with a three-run homer in the fourth inning that tied it at 4-4.

And catcher Chris Hoo, in his Greensboro debut, made an impact offensive and defensively and teamed with Avery Romero on a key play for an out at the plate.

“It was nice to see Johnson and Dewitt get some hits,” said manager David Berg. “Sometimes one hit can trigger a turnaround. Hoo was the game MVP. He caught well, got three hits, had a sacrifice, threw out two runners — that’s a great debut.”

Hoo is the team’s third catcher, which they haven’t had all season. He was added to the roster to help regular catcher Chad Wallach, just back from Jupiter, get some rest before the playoffs. And now Wallach will be out for a few days after suffering concussion symptoms resulting from a collision at home plate in the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader.

“Whenever they call my name, I’ll try my best to help the team,” said Hoo, drafted in the 27th round this summer out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. “It’s fun here. They treat me like I’m one of the family.”

The play at the plate came in the top of the 10th inning. Lakewood had runners at first and third with one out and Carlos Tocci at the plate. The Hoppers played the infielders in with the score tied 5-5. Tocci hit a blooper to short center field and second baseman Romero, who was on the infield grass, sprinted out to make the catch.

Willians Astudillo, on third, broke for home and Romero turned and got enough on the throw to get it to Hoo, who caught it and tagged Astudillo. Astudillo and Lakewood manager Greg Legg protested vigorously, but the out call held and the inning was over.

Romero, in retrospect, said he probably should have thrown the ball to first base to double off that runner, but “I was set on getting it to home.”

Hoo, who also thought Romero was going to throw to first, adjusted quickly.

“It was just catch it and make the tag,” he said. “I was on the corner of the plate and it was a bang-bang play, but I thought we got him.”

In the bottom of the 10th, Hoo singled with one out and Johnson followed with his third homer of the year to win it. He said he was trying to go to right field but he wound up pulling the ball over the fence in left instead.

“I tried to be patient and get a good pitch to hit,” Johnson said. “I hit it hard and it happened to go out. I’ve been doing a couple of drills to get me going and stay through the ball longer.”

Dewitt lined his eighth homer of the year to right center field in the fourth inning. He thought it was going to hit the top of the fence and he would wind up with a triple, but it might have gotten a little help from the wind to carry out.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “I’ve been working on letting the ball get deeper in the zone and on getting my confidence back.”

Hitting coach Frank Moore said Dewitt had been getting behind in the count and then swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Lately he’s been getting ahead in the count and being more selective on his swings.

The Hoppers finished with 15 hits. Hoo and Yefri Perez had three each and J.T. Riddle, Carlos Lopez and Felix Munoz added two apiece. Munoz collected his 81st RBI.

Starting pitcher Jose Adames wasn’t particularly sharp in his five innings, but the bullpen work was excellent from Kyle Fischer, Jose Arias and Esmerling de la Rosa, who picked up his fourth win.

AS for the Ripley’s aspect of the game, the Hoppers won despite some sloppy play. There were several base-running gaffes, a communications error on a popup and a couple of other strange plays.

“We played pretty bad,” Johnson said. “There were some base-running mistakes, including me twice.”

Berg didn’t argue with that.

“It was a weird game,” he said. “We ran ourselves out of lots of opportunities. Against better teams, that will wind up costing you. But every win is a win.”

The Hoppers moved to 33-20 in the second half with the sweep of the BlueClaws and are 76-46 overall.

“We found a way,” Hoo said. “This team knows how to win.”

The Hoppers begin a four-game series with Kannapolis Thursday at 7 p.m. Jarlin Garcia is the scheduled starter.