Bill Hass on Baseball:Woods provides another dramatic moment

Woods provides another dramatic moment
from Bill Hass on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

K.J. Woods has developed a flair for the dramatic this season.

The big first baseman ripped a walk-off grand slam homer Sunday to lift the Hoppers to a 7-4 comeback win over Kannapolis, their third straight victory.

It’s not the first time Woods has delivered a hit in the spotlight. He drilled two homers in the exhibition game against the Marlins in April and slugged a homer in the South Atlantic League All-Star game in June. Many of his other hits and homers have come in clutch situations.

“You live for those opportunities and you want to take full advantage of them,” Woods said with a wide smile. “You dream about walk-off homers when you’re a kid and when you hit a grand slam to win a game, well, it doesn’t get much better in baseball.”

This was the second straight comeback win for the Hoppers. They were down 4-0 and 6-2 Saturday before winning it 7-6. Woods had a three-run homer in that one to pull them within one run.

For six innings Sunday, they were stymied by Kannapolis starter Zach Thompson, who shut them out on three hits. But the Intimidators’ bullpen proved much more vulnerable.

Down 4-0, Arturo Rodriguez got the Hoppers going with a leadoff homer off Brad Salgado in the seventh inning. Later in the inning, Zach Sullivan doubled in another run to cut the lead to 4-2. In the eighth, with two outs and nobody on, Rodriguez delivered another homer, off Kelvis Valerio, to shave the lead to one run.

Ryan Aper began the ninth against Connor Walsh by striking out. But the ball popped away from catcher Brett Austin, something that plagued the Intimidators the whole series, and Aper reached first safely. Sullivan took a called third strike but Mason Davis was hit by a pitch and Rony Cabrera walked to load the bases.

Kannapolis brought in left-hander Ryan Riga, making his first appearance for the Intimidators. He threw a first-pitch strike to Woods, then craned his neck as Woods connected on the second pitch and drove it over the right-field fence to end the game.

“I watched him warming up,” Woods said, “and he was throwing his curve in the dirt, so I didn’t expect him to throw that. His fastball was up during warmups. I took the first pitch, a fastball, just to see what he had. He threw the same pitch again and left it up and I got the job done.”

Woods said it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is right- or left-handed because “he’s still got to throw the ball over those 17 inches (the width of the plate).”

Manager Kevin Randel couldn’t remember ever seeing a walk-off grand slam before.

“It’s good to see us playing better baseball,” he added. “You see that late in a season with a team that’s been struggling. They realize their numbers aren’t going to change that much so you just go play baseball, you compete and you give your best every game.”

With scheduled starter Jorgan Cavanerio pitching in Jacksonville, the Hoppers cobbled together a spot start with relievers Kelvin Rivas, Cody Harris, Jeff Kinley and James Buckelew. Buckelew retired the side in order in the top of the ninth and wound up as the winning pitcher, courtesy of Woods’ homer.

Kinley, an unknown to the coaching staff, joined the team from the Gulf Coast League, arriving by plane Sunday morning and getting to the ballpark about 11:30 a.m. Pitching coach Jeremy Powell told him to be ready and Kinley entered the game in the sixth inning. What surprised everyone was the three shutout innings he delivered, allowing one hit and striking out five.

“That was way more than we expected,” Powell said. “We were just figuring out how to get through the game. He was efficient and threw strikes, which was a huge bonus.”

Using his fastball to set up his changeup and slider, the left-handed Kinley had little trouble with hitters he had never seen in a park he had never been in, delivering 24 strikes in 31 pitches.

“I just wanted to go out and play like any normal game,” he said. “As a reliever, I wanted to pound the zone early.”

Kinley pitched parts of five seasons at Michigan State, getting a medical redshirt after he was limited to nine games because of blood clots in his junior season. He saved 20 games in his career, including a school-record 13 in 2014.

The Marlins drafted him in the 28th round this summer and sent him to Batavia, where he was knocked around in five games. Sent to the GCL, he pitched in five more games with a 2-0 record and 0.84 ERA.

“I didn’t throw well in Batavia,” Kinley said, “partly because I took close to a month off after the college season. I needed more innings to get the feel back and got them in the GCL.”

The victory enabled the Hoppers to take three of four from Kannapolis, the first series they have won since winning two of three against Greenville June 16-18. It also gave them a 4-3 record on the home stand.

NOTES: Woods has 17 homers and Rodriguez 13 this season … Jeff Kinley is not related to Tyler Kinley, who pitched here last season … Ironically, Riga is from Ohio State, the Big 10 rival of Kinley’s Spartans … After the game the Hoppers got on the bus and headed to Lakewood, where they open a three-game series Monday … After a day off, head to Savannah for three more.