Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers come up aces in 10th inning

Hoppers come up aces in 10th inning
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

With his team down by a run in the bottom of the 10th inning, Hoppers manager Todd Pratt knew what he had to do.

“It was time to play all the cards,” he said.

And the sequence of events that followed resulted in the Hoppers pulling out a 9–8 victory over Kannapolis.

“Every card came up an ace,” Pratt said.

He wasn’t patting himself on the back. Pratt knows all too well that a lot of managerial decisions come up jokers. But not this time.

The game had clanked along at an ugly pace. It was slow (3:33 to play), plagued with errors (five by Kannapolis, one by Greensboro) and willed with several other mistakes in execution. A breezy night had turned cool (60 degrees on the outfield time and temperature display). And the Intimidators, once down 7–5, had battled back to take an 8–7 lead on Seby Zavala’s homer in the top of the 10th.

But there’s something about the late innings, especially when the Hoppers are at home.

After one out, Boo Vazquez coaxed a walk from Kannapolis reliever Ben Wright. Pratt played card ?1, sending Walker Olis to pinch-run for Vazquez.

Justin Twine followed by drawing a four-pitch walk. That brought up Jarett Rindfleisch and Pratt played card ?2, calling on Mason Davis to pinch-hit.

Davis shook off the long night of inactivity by drilling a single to right field. Pratt played card ?3 by waving Olis around third. The play was close but Olis was safe when the Intimidators didn’t handle the throw cleanly, tying the game 8–8. On the same throw, Twine just beat the throw to third base.

That brought up Luis Pintor, who has had a knack of coming up with big hits. He did it again, singling sharply into right-center field to bring home Twine with the game-winner.

“Vazquez had a great at-bat, looking at some tough pitches to draw that walk,” Pratt said. “I put in Olis because of his speed; he had a better chance to score from first base on a double.

“I pinch-hit Davis because I wanted a left-hander against the righty. It was a gamble because it only left one catcher (Alex Jones on the bench), but you play the hand and hope it works out.

“Pintor is an outstanding shortstop?—?he made three outstanding plays tonight. He might not even be hitting his weight, but he came through. This team believes it will win, no matter the deficit. They’ve won a lot of one-run games and that shows character.”

Pintor’s weight is listed at 170, which was exactly what he was hitting before the game began.

“Sometimes they tell you to take a strike,” Pintor said, “but if the first pitch was a fastball, I wanted to hit it. That’s what it was and I was looking to hit it up the middle. I want to help the team any way I can and put a good swing on the ball.”

Davis said he kept his head in the game even though he wasn’t playing. He had kept his legs loose as things wore on in case he might be called on as a pinch-runner. Instead, it was as a pinch-hitter.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever pinch-hit before,” he said. “Maybe once. In a situation like that, the pressure is on the pitcher. I’ve just got to be ready. This team loves the late innings.”

The Hoppers had dropped three games at Lakewood, scoring just four runs. Now they’re 26–20, a game-and-a-half behind Hagerstown (27–18) in the SAL Northern Division. They also trail Lakewood (27–19) by a game. The Suns were rained out and the BlueClaws’ game was suspended by rain.

The win negated the ugliness of the game. Although the Hoppers had some good moments?—?putting up five runs in the bottom of the second after falling behind 4–0?—?they also made some uncharacteristic mistakes. They popped up two bunts, had a runner doubled off second base and let a high pop fly drop in between shortstop and center field. Vazquez let a ball roll under his glove in left field to allow an extra run to score.

Pitching was a mixed bag. Starter Braxton Garrett didn’t make it out of the second inning, giving up a pair of homers and four runs because he couldn’t keep his pitches down. Ryley McEachern gave up three runs (two earned) but was victimized by some shoddy play behind him. L.J. Brewster gave up the go-ahead homer in the 10th.

On the other hand, Sam Perez relieved Garrett and ended the second inning by throwing out a runner trying to steal third base, then retired nine straight batters. Chad Smith, after a 1–2–3 eighth, battled out of a one-out, bases-loaded mess in the ninth with a strikeout and groundout.

The teams play the second game of the series at 7 o’clock Friday/tonight with Michael King starting for the Hoppers.

NOTES: Brewster picked up the win, his staff-leading fourth … Twine doubled in two runs and had a sacrifice fly for a 3-RBI night … Corey Bird had an RBI double and a sacrifice fly … James Nelson’s RBI single extended his hitting streak to 11 games. He’s hitting .342 … Vazquez had two hits to boost his average to .306 … The Intimidators recorded 16 hits, including four homers. Columbus, N.C., native Joel Booker went 4-for-5 with a homer, two RBIs and three runs scored.