NILES – Heading to the plate with one out, a runner on first and Mahoning Valley down one run to Jamestown in the bottom of the ninth, Nellie Rodriguez tried to forget the offensive struggles the team had all game.
Until that half inning, the Scrappers managed only three hits, and no runners advanced past second base. Mahoning Valley batters combined to strike out 11 times, with four batters going down looking.
On an 0-1 pitch, Rodriguez erased all of those struggles as the first baseman drilled a walk-off, two-run home run off Jamestown pitcher Justin Topa over the visiting team bullpen in left field to give the Scrappers a 3-2 win at Eastwood Field on Thursday. The win allowed Mahoning Valley (24-36) to avoid the sweep.
“I just got focused, blacked out everything that happened in the game and tried to put a good swing on the ball,” Rodriguez said. “With the height of the ball, I knew it was gone already.”
Scrapper coach Ted Kubiak foresaw the possibility of a walk-off homer before the start of the inning, and he was delighted that his first baseman changed the outcome of the game with one swing of the bat.
“Some of those situations, you kind of get premonitions about it,” Kubiak said. “I had a premonition that was going to happen. Don’t ask me why.
“I’m glad for Nellie, too, because he’s been struggling a little bit. That ball, he hit that really well. That’s what he’s capable of doing all the time. For a 19-year-old kid, it’s unbelievable how hard he hits the ball. It’s big league stuff.”
While Rodriguez’s home run won the game, the Scrappers offense came alive in that inning, as the top of the order came up to face Topa.
Joel Mejia started the inning by forcing a seven-pitch walk, and following a Claudio Bautista strikeout, he scored from first when James Roberts hit a single up the middle. Roberts’ at-bat also involved him staying alive by fouling off a few pitches before getting ahold of one.
“You have to maintain your composure,” Kubiak said. “I told them to take strikes, and they did. You never know what’s going to happen in the game of baseball. You do what you think you can, and if it works out, it does.”
That inning repaid the effort put forth by the Scrappers pitching staff, which held Jamestown (37-24) to just two runs and seven hits. One of those runs came in the first inning, when lead-off batter Candon Myles reached base on a walk, advanced to third by stealing and getting a Martin Cervenka throwing
error and came home off a Adam Frazier single. Harold Ramirez added the other run in the sixth with a solo home run off Matt Whitehouse.
Starter Dace Kime and relief pitchers Whitehouse and Briely Puerta fanned 11 Jammers in the game to keep it close.
“The pitchers this year have been pitching a hell of a job,” Rodriguez said. “Our hitting has been up and down, but we’re just trying to grind these games left and try to finish on a good note.”