First baseman Vinny Esposito (Sacramento State) at the plate.
By the time Cody Brown (Mississippi State) stepped to the plate in the 9th inning, not a single person in the dugouts nor the stands was seated, the byproduct of a newly tied ballgame. The Bethesda Big Train, facing a 5-3 deficit heading into the bottom of the 9th, had just plated two runs to bring the score even at 5. And now, with two outs, men on first and second base, and one of their best hitters at the plate, it was not difficult to begin to believe that the Big Train might actually be able to pull out the victory.
Then Brown laced a 2-1 fastball past the shortstop, and the comeback was complete.
The Big Train used 3 hits, a walk, a HBP, and a wild pitch in the final frame to score 3 runs and steal a win in the most of dramatic of fashions, taking down the Alexandria Aces 6-5.
"I was just thinking, put good wood to it, and square it up somewhere in the middle of the field," said Brown. I was sitting on a curveball, I thought he was gonna throw me a little off-speed there. But he went with the fastball [...] and I got the pitch up, and I hit it."
However, as Brown was quick to note, "It wouldn’t have happened if none of the guys hadn’t gotten on [base] before me there." Indeed, the win was truly the product of a full team effort from the Big Train, who displayed remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. After surrendering two runs in the top of the 9th to break a 3-3 deadlock, the Big Train responded by saving some of their best at bats for last. Allen Smoot (San Francisco) and Gunnar Lambert (Florida Atlantic) delivered the key back-to-back singles which set up Cody Brown for his walk-off hit.
What was the key for those hitters in their final at bats? According to manager Sal Colangelo, it was their confidence and approach.
"They knew their approach, they knew their situation," said Colangelo. "They were focused and they knew what they were going to do [...] they weren't just going up there and swinging away just to swing."
This approach was also exemplified by shortstop Garrett Kueber (Moorpark), who worked a six-pitch walk earlier in the 9th. Kueber narrowly missed tying the ballgame on his own, ripping a fly ball down the left field line that cleared the wall but sailed just foul. But Kueber did not allow the near miss to affect his approach, calmly taking ball four and later scoring the tying run on Smoot's single to right-center.
For much of the night, the game seemed like it would be a low-scoring affair. On the Big Train's side, this was largely the result of another stellar outing from starting pitcher Johnny York (St. Mary's). After getting off to a slow start, allowing 3 hits and 2 runs in the top of the 1st, York found his rhythm and proceeded to shut out the Aces for the next 6 innings. York finished wth a line of 7.0 innings pitched, 9 strikeouts, and only those 2 earned runs allowed. "Johnny's a competitor," said Colangelo of his left-handed starter. "He can play for me any day of the week." Reliever Mack Meyer (San Francisco) also turned in a solid performance, limiting the damage in the top of the 9th and coming away with the win, his first of the year.
The Big Train scored their first run of the day in the 2nd on a single by Brown followed by an error by the Alexandria third baseman, allowing Gunnar Lambert to score. Clayton Daniel (Jacksonville State) would come around to score in the following inning on another Alexandria error, this time by their second baseman, to knot the game at 2 apiece. The score would remain unchanged until the 8th when each team scored a run in their half of the inning, refusing to allow each other to gain the upper hand for any extended period of time. This would set the stage for the Big Train's 9th inning heroics.
"We’ve been waiting for this all year, for the fight," said Colangelo with a barely contained grin. If the Big Train can remain ready to fight on any given night, one thing's for certain: this will be a very tough team to beat come playoff time.
The Big Train return to action on Sunday evening at Shirley Povich Field against the Baltimore Dodgers. The two teams will finish a previously started game at 5:30pm p.m., before the start of another full game at approximately 7:30.