OK. Let’s just cut to the chase.
Even though there’s only one holdover in the cast, this year’s Chillicothe Mudcats reprised the most-positive hallmark of the 2011 Mudcats – the last at-bat comeback – last night to pull out a 9-8 MINK?League triumph at “June”?Shaffer Memorial?Park stadium.
The home team chased down the Outlaws from Joplin in a dramatic climax to the thriller, catching them at 8-8 on Alex Peña’s 1-out double down the right-field line in the bottom of the ninth inning and bringing them to justice two batters later when?Tyler Duplantis bounced a single up the middle to plate the departing Peña for the walkoff win.
“I always tell our guys to keep grinding, fighting through adversity inning by inning,” Mudcats assistant/hitting coach?Jake Nelson commented following the thrilling triumph.
“We had runners on base and finally found a way to get it done. I’m very proud of them for staying strong and not giving up.”
The exciting Chillicothe triumph began a 3-game set with the southwest Missouri guests, as well as an 8-game homestand across eight evening. The same two teams will play single games tonight and tomorrow (7:05 p.m. first pitches each time) before the Mudcats have their first non-league contest of the season Sunday evening at 6:05 against the Kansas City Monarchs Ban Johnson League team.
Tonight’s middle game of the series with the Outlaws is expected to find lefthander Jamie Bittle from Northwestern (La.) State University as the starting pitcher for the hosts. Big (6’8”, 230 pounds) Evansville righty James Kohler is in line to get the ball Saturday.
Last night’s 3-run ninth off Joplin’s sixth pitcher of the game, Trevor Blocker, capped a comeback from a 7-2 deficit. The Mudcats (5-5, 5-5 MINK) drew within 7-5 with three markers in the bottom of the sixth, then offset a seventh-inning Joplin tally with one in the home eighth.
In the ninth, with righthander Blocker into the action, Chillicothe had the top of its lineup to try to stage the last-gasp rally and it delivered as scripted.
Down on the count 1-2, leadoff man?Isaac Smith fisted a grounder wide of the third baseman that, once it got by him, was a sure infield hit, even if the shortstop had come up with it cleanly, which he didn’t.
Lefthanded-hitter Ryan Brinley, with extra hitting room on the right side of the infield with Smith being held on, couldn’t find it, instead chopping a ball to the first baseman that retired him before Smith beat a throw to second.
The Fish’s best hitter thus far, Ryan?Busch, continued his early-season tear with a well-aimed line drive the opposite way which dropped in well in front of the right fielder and moved I. Smith to third.
Page 2 of 2 - Then came perhaps a key play of the inning, even though the Mudcats didn’t make it.
With runners at the corners, Joplin lost the possibility of a routine ground-ball double play when an outside 1-2 pitch to Peña went off the catcher’s mitt about 20 feet and Busch alertly zipped into scoring position at second.
On the very next delivery, the lefty-hitting Peña, in what figures to be his last game as a Mudcat, got out in front of a Blocker pitch and lined it about a foot inside the right field line about 200 feet from home plate. The double easily sent I.?Smith and Busch home to tie it at 8-8.
Peña was to head home to the Dominican?Republic today to prepare for an upcoming pro baseball tryout camp. Mudcats head coach?Eric Peterson told the C-T earlier this week that Peña has indicated if he gets any kind of an offer to sign a pro contract, he intends to do so. Peterson expects that to happen.
“To see him go out like that – giving us a tying hit – that was huge for us,” Nelson said of Peña.
Having squared the game in what likely was his last Chillicothe at-bat, Peña then added scoring the walkoff run to his brief, but fairly full, Mudcats memories mental scrapbook. After a walk to?Arnold, he raced home ahead of the center fielder’s throw when?Duplantis bounced a 3- or 4-hopper through the middle of the diamond and into shallow center field to end it.
“That was huge for Alex,” added Neslon of the late addition to the roster when some early injuries cropped up.?“He’s such a great athlete and has such a good future ahead of him. We wish him all the best. He’s helped us out a bunch.”
The win went to side-arming righthanded reliever Lee Harrison (1-0), who’d worked a 1-2-3 top of the ninth as his parents from Charlotte, N.C., looked on.