Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers rally in 14th, get a win for Alfonzo

Hoppers rally in 14th, get a win for Alfonzo
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Giovanny Alfonzo keeps racking up the pitching statistics.

He entered Monday’s game in the top of the 14th inning and gave up a run, but the Hoppers rallied in the bottom of the inning. Aaron Blanton homered to tie the game against Asheville and Anfernee Seymour drove in Casey Soltis with a double moments later to give the Hoppers an improbable 6-5 win.

Alfonzo earned the victory to go with the save he recorded last week against Hickory. Not a bad pitching resume for a utility infielder.

It was the second 14-inning win for the Hoppers in six days. In the game against Hickory, Blanton got the win and Alfonzo saved the game.

“It’s been a crazy year for me,” Alfonzo said.

Manager Kevin Randel doesn’t know if he can take many more games like those two.

“They’re taking years off my life,” he laughed. “These kids are showing a lot of fight and it’s fun to watch.”

The Hoppers looked like they were done when Asheville nicked Alfonzo for a run in the top of the 14th on a double, a sacrifice and an RBI single. In the bottom of the inning, Tourist reliever Devin Burke quickly disposed of the first two hitters. Then Blanton, hitless in his first five trips, lined a ball over the fence in left field to tie the game.

“I thought (Burke) was going to throw another fastball,” Blanton said, “so I sat on it and hit it hard. I didn’t want to be the one to end the game. I didn’t even know it was a homer at first.”

Soltis then coaxed a walk to keep things going and bring up Seymour, who hooked a double into the left field corner. Solis was waved around third base by coach Jose Ceballos and scored standing up.

“I went up there with the idea of looking for something elevated that I could drive into a gap,” Seymour said. “I knew Casey was fast and could score. (Burke) gave me something away and I got around on it. That’s the first time I’ve ever done something like that in my life. I can’t describe how it feels.”

The reason Alfonzo was pressed into service again was because the scheduled starter, Gabriel Castellanos, was just put on the DL. So the Hoppers patched together a group of four relief pitchers to fill the gap.

L.J. Brewster started and made it through four innings, giving up three runs, one of them unearned. Jeff Kinley was next up and threw three shutout innings, allowing one hit. Ben Meyer threw three more, giving up a home run in the ninth that stretched Asheville’s lead to 4-2.

But the Hoppers countered with two runs to tie it. Angel Reyes singled and scored on a double by Arturo Rodriguez, who moved to third on a throwing error. Justin Twine punched a single through a drawn-in Asheville infield to score Rodriguez and tie the game.

After Meyer pitched a scoreless 10th, Andy Beltre came on to blank the Tourists on one hit for the next three innings.

The first four pitchers combined for 18 strikeouts — four by Brewster, five by Kinley, six by Meyer and three by Beltre.

With the Hoppers completely out of available pitchers, Randel called on Alfonzo.

“I was joking with some guys in the dugout about when I should start getting loose,” said Alfonzo. “In the 10th inning, Smoke (Randel’s nickname) nodded at me and told me to get loose. So I grabbed my glove, went to the bullpen and tried to get into a pitcher’s mode — which I don’t even have.”

Alfonzo said that, before he pitched against Hickory, his only experience on the mound was for his high school JV team at the end of a season. He never pitched in two years at Florida State and two more at Tampa. So what was in his arsenal?

“A two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a knuckle curve,” he said with a straight face. “I don’t really work on them, but I know how to hold them. When position players play catch we mess around and pretend we’re pitchers. I just tried to hit my spots and change speeds as much as I could.”

A right-hander, he threw from a three-quarter arm slot at speeds that ranged from a high of 77 mph down to 58. After Beltre had pounded the Tourists with fastballs at 92, the ball must have looked like it was taking forever to reach the plate. Asheville did reach him for a double and a bloop single, neither hard hit, to score its run.

“I felt bad for my team,” he said, “because they had played their butts off for 13 innings.”

Turns out, they were just setting things up for his victory.

The Hoppers knocked out 17 hits — four each by Seymour, Twine and Reyes. Seymour had a pair of doubles and two bunt singles. Twine had a pair of RBIs, including a solo homer, his first of the year.

Josh Naylor returned from his suspension and was the Hoppers’ DH but didn’t factor into any of the scoring, going 1-for-6.

The Hoppers won their fourth straight game and improved to 35-30, clinching at least a .500 record for the first half. They have five games remaining.

There’s little rest for the weary. The teams get right back at it with a 12:30 game at NewBridge Bank Park Wednesday, the final game of the series and the final home game of the first half for the Hoppers. Jordan Holloway will start for Greensboro.