Menchaca went batty Thursday (Photo: Mariners)
In one of the most unlikely come-from-behind victories in recent memory, the San Antonio Missions put their recent hitting woes behind them to come back from seven runs down to beat Tulsa on Thursday. InsidethePark's Joe Ruiz was there for the breakdown and the reaction.
On any other Thursday night game, the San Antonio Missions’ stands would have been packed. Any other evening, and the San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t have been playing a crucial playoff game against the Los Angeles Lakers 15 minutes west of Wolff Stadium.
Yet when all was said and done this Thursday, the Missions had played a game few will soon forget, an exasperating come-from-behind 8-7 win over the Tulsa Drillers.
San Antonio trailed the Drillers 7-0 in seventh, this coming after the Missions hadn’t scored a run in 15 innings and had managed only one run over the past 44.1 innings. Making matters worse, the Missions had already committed three errors in the game, including two from one of the league’s most sure-handed fielders, third baseman Greg Dobbs.
Talk about in trouble, the Missions’ looked like they didn’t have a snowballs chance in (heck) to pull this game out.
But on this night, none of that mattered. Not the Lakers-Spurs matchup across town. Not the large deficit. Not the costly errors. San Antonio had one thing on its mind – winning.
In the top of the fifth inning, Tulsa scored their seventh run on third baseman Corey Slavik’s single to right. Tulsa catcher Dan Conway singled in the next at-bat, also to right field, and as Slavik reached third he decided to test right fielder Cristian Guerrero’s arm. Guerrero’s throw skipped home on one hop to catcher Luis Oliveros, Slavik bowled over the 20-year-old from Venezuela, but failed to knock the ball loose and handing Guerrero a nice 9-2 outfield assist to stave off the Drillers' eighth run.
If the Missions didn’t win, it’d be a shame (or so says the song).
After the seventh-inning stretch amid cheers of “Go Spurs Go” from the 2,596 in attendance, 1B Ryan Balfe walked to begin the inning and advanced to second on DH/C Jim Horner’s base hit to right field. After a popup by Oliveros, Guerrero with his 6-foot-7 frame and .038 batting average at home, hit an infield single to third to load the bases.
Tulsa manager Tom Runnels called on RHP Gerrit Simpson to put out the fire against SS Eddy Menchaca. In Wednesday afternoon’s game, Menchaca left eight runners on base and twice left the bases loaded.
Another sign that it was going to be one of those nights.
Menchaca’s ground-ball single to right field scored Balfe and started a spirited rally. CF Dustin Delucchi hit a sacrifice fly to right to bring in Horner and IF Hunter Brown followed that by reaching on an error that scored Guerrero to bring the Missions within four runs.
Then, as he has time and again this season, Dobbs had an extra-base hit with two outs. Dobbs' triple to center field plated Menchaca and Brown to cut the deficit to 7-5.
Outfielder Greg Jacobs feels that he has been brushed back by the Rockies organization a few too many times.
“I don’t get their plan, since the California League (when) I faced this organization. They pitch at my head. I don’t know if they’re trying to get me out of the way or send a message,” said the Missions’ outfielder. “They’re (going to) make a mistake and I’ll handle it the way I did.”
The way Jacobs handled it was to tie the game with a 2-run home run over the wall in right-center field.
San Antonio batted around in the seventh inning, recording the third out with Balfe’s flyout to right field.
Fast forwarding to the bottom of the 10th inning after neither team could manage a run versus the opponents bullpen, the Missions entered first extra inning game of the season. With one out (and the crowd deflated after the Spurs loss was realized), Horner reached base on a single to left and advanced to second on Oliveros’ infield single. Tulsa again looked to their bullpen to put out the flames, but during Tulsa's Alex Serrano was warming up, IF Rob Gandolfo entered the game as a pinch-runner for Horner and OF Shin-soo Choo was announced as the pinch hitter for Guerrero.
Tonight was supposed to be Choo’s night off, but during the bottom of the 9th, he sat in the bullpen along the third-base line and told InsideThePark.com that the right wrist he rolled over in the previous game was “just fine”. After Wednesday’s game, Choo was visibly down about his 0-17 slump, even saying it was territory he had never seen before.
“I’ve played baseball for 13 years,” said Choo. “I’m not angry, I’m just frustrated.”
Choo responded by punching a single through the hole created on the right side of the infield and Missions Manager Dave Brundage, with his left arm circling clockwise and his right arm pointed at home plate, waved Gandolfo around third to beat the throw from Driller RF Shawn Garrett.
As Gandolfo and Choo were mobbed by their victorious and teammates, Brundage spoke with InsideThePark.com just outside the team’s dugout about what this game and the seven-run comeback means to his team.
“A lot of times when you’ve been shut out, I said all along that when we do break out, hopefully, we’ll break out in big fashion,” Brundage said. “I kind of left it alone (the scoring drought), I didn’t say too much. It’s not like they’re out there trying to make outs and have poor at-bats. For the most part, I kind of left it alone and said ‘you know what, it kind of takes a ball game like this to see what we’re made of’.”
Thirty-two hours prior, Choo sat alone at the end of the Missions dugout, contemplating every possible reason for his hitless streak.
Thursday night, he smiled as he received congratulations from both teammates and fans. Afterwards, inside the hall halfway between the field and the Missions clubhouse, Choo spoke about what the at-bat meant to him.
Choo talked about making sure he was ready for the call to pinch-hit, about making sure he stayed focused at the plate and about the team effort to win the game, but the emotion of the moment can be summarized after the digital recorder turned off.
“I’m just so happy,” Choo said as he pumped his fist.