Bill Hass on Baseball:Martin’s walk-offs wreck BlueClaws

Martin’s walk-offs wreck BlueClaws
from Bill Hass, with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

Mason Martin always looks for pitches he can do some damage with.

What he did Sunday afternoon was turn two pitches into wrecking balls.

Martin blasted a pair of walk-off home runs to provide the Hoppers a doubleheader sweep of the stunned Lakewood BlueClaws.

They were both three-run shots, and both were crushed. The first flew across Eugene Street and hit the as-yet unfinished buildings going up. The computer that measures these things put it at 411 feet. That one gave the Hoppers an 8–7 victory.

The second went just to the left of center field and bounced off the roof of the green equipment shed behind the fence. That one measured 448 feet and won the game 6–5.

“I’ve never had a walk-off hit of any kind,” Martin said after the second game, unable to suppress a wide smile. “It was an out-of-body experience.”

The results improved the Hoppers’ record to 28–14, giving them 21 wins in their last 27 games. Martin’s homers were his 10th and 11th of the season, tying him with teammate Rodolfo Castro. He also collected seven RBIs, boosting his total to 38, tops in the South Atlantic League.

“That was one of those special moments in my life,” said manager Miguel Perez. “I’m glad I was there to be a part of it.”

Martin’s heroics lifted the Hoppers out of an otherwise unremarkable day. They committed seven errors, four in the first game and three in the second, something uncharacteristic of their play in the last month.

“Mason just put us on his back today,” said Hoppers infielder Kyle Mottice. “We didn’t do a lot well or make a lot of good plays. But we showed good fight. In that second game we were down to our last strike.”

Indeed, a lot of table-setting had to happen to give Martin two chances. In the first game, it came swiftly after Lakewood carried a 7–4 lead into the bottom of the seventh. Robinson Martinez came out of the bullpen to protect the lead and Raul Siri greeted him with a double.

“Getting that leadoff man on base shifts the pressure to the defense,” said Hoppers hitting coach Chris Petersen.

Lolo Sanchez followed by drawing a walk and Fabricio Macias singled to score Siri and cut the lead to 7–5. That brought up Martin, who had an RBI single earlier in the game. When he connected, Lakewood right fielder Carlos De La Cruz never moved, except to trot off the field.

“I knew I was the winning run and the tying run (Macias) was on first base,” Martin said, “so I didn’t have to hit a homer. But I didn’t change my approach. That was a fastball and it felt like the best connection I had made all season.”

In the celebratory locker room, Martin was so pumped up about his first walk-off that he had trouble focusing on the second game. That showed in his first two at-bats, when he struck out swinging. He got locked in by the time of his third time up when he lined that ball sharply to shortstop for an out.

Lakewood seemed to shake off the effects of the first game and built a 5–3 lead in the second. In the seventh inning, BlueClaws reliever Oscar Marcelino, who had been effective for two innings, quickly disposed of the first two hitters.

He got two strikes on Sanchez and looked ready to wrap up the game. But Sanchez singled in the hole between third base and shortstop to keep the inning alive. The BlueClaws chose to lift Marcelino for Blake Bennett, who hit Mottice on the right hand to further extend the game.

“We played against each other in college and I knew he was going to try to come in on me,” Mottice said. “He got me pretty good.”

That brought up Martin and everyone immediately thought, “can he do it again?” Mottice, still shaking his stinging right hand, noticed something right away.

“Their (Lakewood’s) second baseman looked at the first baseman and you could see they were thinking ‘uh, oh, here we go again’” Mottice said.

Martin stepped in, looking to do some damage. And when he did, center fielder Malvin Matos went back about three steps, realized he didn’t need to go any further, and watched the ball disappear over the fence.

“I looked for a good pitch to hit, I got one and I didn’t miss it,” Martin said. “It was a changeup that was up where I could get a good barrel on it. I knew it was gone, but I couldn’t really believe it.”

For the second time the Hoppers dugout erupted. Teammates threw their hats in the air, vaulted over the railing, poured onto the field and engulfed Martin as he touched home plate.

From Petersen’s perspective, Martin’s success was easy to explain.

“He had a nice controlled, relaxed swing and he didn’t try to do too much,” the coach said. “He had a very good approach to both those at-bats.”

And Martin provided two dramatic endings to rescue the day. Perez acknowledged his team’s mistakes and said it was just one of those days.

“The energy wasn’t there,” he said, “but when you win games like that it can pull the team closer together. The chemistry can get even stronger.”

The Hoppers go for a rare five-game sweep when they play the BlueClaws Monday at noon. Osvaldo Bido will start for the Hoppers.

NOTES: Good bullpen pitching kept the Hoppers in each game … Will Gardner pitched three scoreless innings in the opener and Cristofer Melendez threw one perfect inning and picked up the win … In the second game, Cam Alldred had two scoreless innings and Yerry De Los Santos got the win with a shutout inning in the seventh.