here.here.Mike Trout may be the best player in baseball, but the Lookouts 2,550 fans probably left AT&T field believing the best player of his generation might soon have competition in centerfield. The Trash Panda’s Orlando Martinez looked like 2001 Barry Bonds reincarnated against Chattanooga and sent three towering shots over the rightfield wall in a game that also featured a late-game rally from down five, terrible baserunning, high-pressure pitching, 31 combined hits, and more.
The Trash Pandas eventually won the game 12-10 in 10 innings, and the journey from blowout to extra-inning thriller was a fantastic one.
Designated hitter David MacKinnon started the game with a double slapped down the third-base line, and jogged into second by the time left-fielder Jay Schuyler dug it out of the corner. Starting Lookouts hurler Randy Wynne found himself in an early hole one batter later, when Trash Panda second-baseman Michael Stefanic plopped a single into shallow right to drive MacKinnon home. Orlando Martinez then made it 3-0 when he took Wynne deep and pulled the ball over the rightfield fence. After this, Wynne rebounded to force a strikeout, a popup, and a grounder, and thus escaped the nightmare inning.
Trash Panda starting righthander Travis Herrin got off to a somewhat shaky start, walking Lookout second baseman Alejo Lopez before almost taking shortstop Jose Garcia’s head off with a high inside pitch. After a visit from the catcher, Herrin regrouped to force Garcia into a groundout. However, Narciso Crook singled into left to get the Lookouts back on base, and then a soft Yoel Yanqui grounder to second base must have frazzled Stefanic.
The Trash Panda second baseman threw a weak toss over to first, which forced the fielder off the bag and gave Chattanooga runners at first and second with two outs. One batter later, Wilson Garcia singled between second and third and Crook came home. TJ Hopkins walked on six pitches after that, and Herrin received a second visit to the mound now that the bases were loaded.
Up came Schuyler, and he started his at bat by taking two straight balls high and inside. The righthander took a rip at the third pitch, but fouled it into the dirt. Herrin’s third offering was low and outside, giving Schuyler a hitter’s count. But Herrin got out of the jam when Schuyler pulled a grounder right to third baseman Mitch Nay, who tossed over to first to get the Trash Pandas out of danger and still leading 3-1.
Wynne’s second inning went by with much less action than his first. Aside from an Anthony Mulrine infield single that honestly could have been deemed a Jose Garcia error because of a bad throw, Herrin struck out two and got a quick flyout to end the inning in less than five minutes. Chattanooga’s Leonardo Rivas slapped a sharp grounder that popped off the first-base bag and landed in between three Trash Pandas.
By the time one of them could grab the ball, the Lookouts had a man on second. Next up was righthanded catcher Mark Kolozvary, who doubled the second pitch he saw, sending it deep to left. The ball ricocheted off the Ace Hardware sign, and the speedy Rivas strolled across homeplate to make it a one-run game in the bottom of the second.
Instead of settling for a double, top-100 prospect Jose Garcia went for three bags instead. He went opposite field and lofted the ball down the rightfield line. He sprinted for two and then accelerated onto third, which naturally drove Kolozvary home and tied the game at three apiece. Herrin’s control was almost nonexistent, tossing most of his pitches in the dirt or closer to a batter’s body than the strike zone. Through two innings, Herrin threw 50 pitches and only 23 of them had been for strikes.
The Trash Panda’s made sure that tie wouldn’t last for too long. Martinez hit his second home run off Wynne on a 3-1 count, once more send the ball over Crook and the rightfield wall. Martinez may have come into the game hitting only .091 on the very young season, but the 23 year old Cuban centerfielder looked every bit like a major league slugger in his first two at-bats.
Trash Panda rightfielder Izzy Wilson may not have the pedigree Martinez does, but he made sure to show off his considerable power in his the next at-bat. The Lookout infield was shifted to the right, expecting the lefty slugger to pull a ground ball. They were correct about the first ‘pulling’ part, but they were wrong about the ground ball aspect. He launched a moonball into rightfield and drove home two more runs. Wynne only got out of the inning because Mulrine got greedy on an opposite-field hit and unsuccessfully tried to stretch a single into a double, thus ending the top of the third.
Martinez showed he was more than just a powerful bat when the Lookouts went up to bat. Schuyler hit a soft but dangerous flyball to centerfield, and for a moment it looked as if he would go in for two or possibly three bases. Instead, the Panda’s Martinez sprinted to his left and snagged the ball before rolling across the outfield grass to cushion his fall. After a rough first two innings, Herrin finally accrued three outs while remaining unscathed by the Lookouts’ potent bats.
Crook should have had an easy putout in right, but Wynne’s rotten night continued after the rightfielder dropped a MacKinnon flyball, turning a second out into a double. Garcia showed his athleticism at shortstop a few moments later though, taking in a tough grounder, spinning around, and throwing a dart to first for the second out. But centerfielder TJ Hopkins couldn’t quite get to a soft flyball, and once the ball squirted past him, MacKinnon scored and Wynne’s night was over after three and two-third’s innings.
In came 6’4 righthander Nick Howard, who just took two pitches to get Panda third baseman Mitch Nay out on a powerless harmless grounder back to the pitcher. His catcher Kolzvary showed the rightfield fence that Martinez wasn’t the only one who loved it when he led off the bottom of the fourth with a powerful shot of his own. Kolozvary sent Herrin’s third offering over everyone’s head and that darned rightfield wall to give Chattanooga four runs.
Aside from Trash Panda Izzy Wilson’s towering flyout inexplicably slipping out of Hopkin’s glove, Howard mowed through the Panda’s in a scoreless and hitless top of the fifth. Reliever Keith Rogalla handled the bottom of the inning for the Pandas, and Wilson Garcia began his night by slapping a single into rightfield on his fourth pitch. Hopkins nullified this sweet display of hitting by grounding into a double play after this, and the Lookouts followed the Panda’s lead by going through a scoreless fifth.
Howard got Spencer Griffin to strike out swinging to start the top of the sixth, and then Lookouts nemesis MacKinnon went down looking after Howard pumped in a 93 MPH fastball on the lower edge of the plate. Stefanic got on first after he sent a grounder through the middle infield, but he was stranded once the powerful Orlando Martinez struck out on a whirlwind whack, the first time Martinez had failed to get on base after three straight hits.
Rivas started the bottom of the sixth with a sharp line drive off Rogalla into left field. It must have gotten lost in foul territory, because by the time Griffin threw the ball back into play, Rivas was sliding into third with Chattanooga’s third triple of the night. Lopez’s ensuing single through the middle just got past shortstop Ray-Patrick Didder, and Rivas sprinted home to make it 7-5, ending the game’s one and a half inning scoring drought.
24 year-old righthander John Ghyzel came in for the top of the seventh and got one strikeout to start the inning, and then watched third baseman Rivas botch a routine throw to first, which allowed Didder to get on base. Didder stole second a few minutes later, leaving first to be occupied by infielder Ibandel Isabel after Ghyzel walked him. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, and an out-of-control Ghyzel got a visit from Kolozvary and manager Ricky Gutierrez after he threw to everywhere but Izzy Wilson’s strike zone.
In came righthander Dauri Moreta, who had the unenviable task of trying to maneuver his way out of a bases loaded situation. He got off to a good start by striking out Mulrine with a fireball that touched 94 on the radar gun, but then walked Griffin and gave the Trash Pandas their eighth run. Moreta struck out MacKinnon, and the Pandas stranded three baserunners as the crowd of 2,550 began to sing during the seventh inning stretch.
Wilson Garcia and Hopkins started the bottom of the seventh by knocking Rogalla around for a pair of singles, giving Schuyler an opportunity to cut into the three run deficit. He did not do that, instead grounding into a 6-4-5 double play to end the game. Orlando Martinez then decided to show off his power one more time by belting a no-doubt-about-it comet over (you guessed it) the rightfield wall for home run number three.
Moreta stayed in the game just long enough to put runners on first and second for Izzy Wilson. After getting Wilson to popup, Moreta handed the ball over to 224 pound righthander Alexis Diaz. The fifth Lookouts pitcher got Rocket City to ground into an inning-ender, and Chattanooga now had six outs to make up a five-run deficit.
Rivas made his case to move up in the batting order after the third-baseman singled to left for his third hit in four trips to the plate to start the bottom of the eighth. Kolozvary walked after that to put two on base with no outs, and so the Rocket City management had to have a meeting with new pitcher Oliver Ortega. That visit didn’t do much good for the visiting reliever, because he summarily walked Lopez to load the bases. Sterling prospect Jose Garcia’s grounder to the shortstop drove in one run, and Narciso Crook took a walk to reload the bases.
Yoel Yanqui hit another high blooper into centerfield, and it landed in between three Trash Pandas. In came two runners, and then a terrible throw by leftfielder Griffin went past the third-baseman. This allowed Crook to come in all the way from first, and Yanqui stopped at third, having made the score 10-9.
TJ Hopkins may have had a rough night in the field, but his sharp grounder spiked off the ground and was nigh unplayable for Didder. Yanqui scored and what had been a five run lead for Rocket City was but a memory for the visitors. Out came Ortega and in came Adrian Almeida to stop the bleeding. He did just that, picking off Hopkins at first to end the inning with the score still tied. Alexis Diaz retired the side, which meant Orlando Martinez didn’t have a chance to jack his fourth homer of the game.
Rivas, for what seemed to be the hundredth time, slapped a single to get on base. Kolozvary followed Rivas, and laid off the first three pitches, giving himself a favorable count. Almeida located his next fastball to make the count 3-1, and then the catcher fouled back his fifth pitch to get a full count. Rivas tried to steal second, but was picked off by an accurate throw from first base to second. Kolozvary then walked, so Lopez now had a man on base with two outs.
Lopez’s grounder to third baseman Nay seemed to spell extra innings, but Nay’s throw was poor and the Jose Garcia suddenly had a chance to win the game with a man on second. He swung and missed twice to start the at bat, but then laid off four straight balls to load the bases.
Up came Narciso Crook, who swung for the fences on the first pitch he saw, but missed the ball. The next pitch was deemed a strike, and then Almeida’s third fastball hit the inside corner. So despite all of the fan’s complaints, free baseball was in the cards. Alexis Diaz did the impossible and got Martinez to strike out swinging with the obligatory runner on second. Diaz couldn’t celebrate for very long, as unfortunately for the Lookouts, Nay followed his strikeout by hammering a ball over the leftfield fence to give the Trash Pandas a 12-10 lead. There would be no rally for the Lookouts, with the game ending on a Hopkins groundout after the Lookouts failed to advance a runner. It was a pedestrian way to end a game that was anything but.
ROCKET CITY 3 0 3 1 0 0 1 2 0 2 -- 12 16 3
CHATTANOOGA 1 2 0 1 0 1 0 5 0 0 -- 10 16 3
Herrin, Rogalla (5), Ortega (8), Almeida (8) and Mulrine; Wynne, Howard (4), Ghyzel (7), Moreta (7), Diaz (8) and Kolozsvary.
WP: Adrian Almeida (1-0)
LP: Alexis Diaz (0-1)
For complete box score, click here.
(You can contact the author at Joseph.A.Dycus@gmail.com or on twitter at @joseph_dycus)