“This is a magical game.”
That’s what one of my new Hoppers friends said sometime around the 13th inning of tonight’s 15-inning Greensboro Grasshoppers playoff game against the Hickory Crawdads. The game ended with a walk-off two-run homer hit by Christian Yelich. It’s a huge win for the Hoppers, who now only need one more win to take the best-of-three series, claim the division championship, and head to the league championship.
Going into the game, I was talking with the guys who hang out on Eugene Street during batting practice and I predicted that the game tonight could go pretty much any way: a complete blowout on either side, or an incredibly close and tense game. I was leaning towards close and tense, and that’s exactly what we got. Check out the official box score and game recap for all the details, but here’s how it went down for the Hoppers.
Starting for Greensboro was Rhett Varner. The game was scoreless through four innings. In the top of the fifth, Hickory scored a run. After six innings, Brett Zawacki replaced Varner on the mound. Greensboro did not score a run until the eighth inning, when Marcell Ozuna hit a solo home run. Grant Dayton took the mound for the Hoppers in the ninth. The score remained tied at 1-1 through the ninth inning. It was a tense game the whole time. Things got even more tense in the tenth. Michael Brady took the mound for the Hoppers, and the second batter he faced hit a solo home run, bringing the score 2-1 in favor of Hickory. When the Hoppers took the plate in the bottom of the tenth, they needed a run to stay in the game. And that’s exactly what they got from Danny Black, who walked, advanced to second on a beautiful sacrifice bunt by Isaac Galloway, advanced to third on a 6-3 groundout by Noah Perio, and made it home on a Marcell Ozuna single. Unfortunately, Christian Yelich flew out, ending the inning with the score tied 2-2. The eleventh and twelfth were scoreless. Jordan Conley replaced Brady on the mound in the twelfth. The thirteenth inning was the most tense of the game. The first batter reached on a double. The second batter walked. The third batter laid down a nice sacrifice bunt, advancing the base runners to second and third. Conley intentionally walked the next batter, loading the bases. At this point, Conley was replaced by Mike Ojala, who pitched the rest of the game and is credited with the win. Ojala struck out the first batter he faced, which put two outs on the board. The next batter singled, driving in one (and thank goodness only one) run. Finally, the last batter grounded into a 4-3 out. The Hoppers were both lucky and skillful in getting out of that situation with only one run scored. With the score now 3-2 in favor of Hickory, the Hoppers once again found themselves in need of a run to stay in the game. And once again, they found it. This time it came when Marcell Ozuna singled, and was then driven in by a Christian Yelich double. There were no other runs, so we left the thirteenth inning with the score tied at 3. This was particularly disappointing, as the Hoppers stranded three runners. We were hoping for either a walk-off grand slam or a walk-off walk to end the game, but our wish was not granted. There were no scoring plays in the fourteenth inning. In the fifteenth, Hickory scored another run via a homer, putting the score 4-3. Once again, the Hoppers found themselves in need of a run in order to stay alive. Things were looking good for the Hoppers, with the middle of the lineup scheduled to bat. Marcell Ozuna reached first after being hit (slightly grazed, it appeared to me) by a pitch. Then Christian Yelich drove him in on a two-run walk-off homer that was simply a bomb. The stadium exploded. The Hoppers cleared the dugout to welcome Ozuna and Yelich home. The fans went wild. It really was magical.
As always, Bill on Baseball has a great recap, including quotes from the players and manger: Hoppers’ flair for drama continues.
So, now Greensboro is in the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They’re facing tough competition, and they’re coming through. They’re not making it through easily, though. A fifteen inning game is tough on the team. I wonder how the bullpen is holding up. Fortunately, tomorrow is an off day so the team can rest before heading to Hickory for Friday, and if necessary, Saturday. With a best-of-three series like this, it is vitally important to get the first game so that your opponent is playing “catch up.”
Another fun note from the game. One of the advertising tie-ins is with Taylor Made Kettle Corn, which is unquestionably the best value concession at the ballpark. When the Hoppers catch a high fly ball, they call it a “Taylor Made Can Of Corn.” The first time they did that tonight, I held up my bag of kettle corn high above my head, which must have caught Jim Scott’s attention, as he announced on the PA that I was holding it up. It was funny to hear my name come through the PA at the park — thanks, Jim. And I’m glad to help share the love of kettle corn to all the baseball fans. I usually buy an extra bag to take home from the game.
My seat was right behind the Hoppers’ on-deck circle and I got a few decent pictures of the batters as they were warming up. Here are a couple of Marcell Ozuna that I’m particularly fond of.
I’ll be heading to Hickory after work Friday for the game. I’ll be pulling for the Hoppers to shut Hickory down and take the series early. If they do win the division championship, two of the league championship games will be played in Greensboro next week.
Remember, you can click on any of the pictures in the post to embiggen them. Check out the photo album on Facebook for all the pictures. Join the conversation by leaving a comment — what are you thinking?