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.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Mahoning Valley shortstop James Roberts, left, doesn’t come up with the baseball on a steal attempt by Jamestown’s Candon Myles. The ball went to center field, and Myles advanced to third and eventually scored.
"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.
LOSING STREAK SNAPPED: It wasn't quite as long as the franchise-record 12-game losing streak in early July, the Scrappers snapped a six-game losing with the 3-2 win over the Jamestown Jammers on Thursday.
Scrappers coach Ted Kubiak doesn't let such streaks get to him and said he expects to his team to win every night no matter the performance from the previous day.
"There's no secret we've been losing," Kubiak said. "Every night, I go out thinking we're going to win. It just depends on what we do. We haven't been hitting. We didn't get a lot of hits tonight, but the ones we got counted."
TROUBLES AT THE PLATE: Although Mahoning Valley scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth, it didn't completely cover up the offensive problems that have plagued the team all year.
Over the six-game losing streak, the Scrappers averaged less than four hits per game, and they were on the wrong end of a no-hitter on Sunday. In Thursday's win, they had three hits going into the final inning and had two runners reach second base, only to go no further.
First baseman Nellie Rodriguez pointed to the pressure that the players put themselves during every at-bat to try and carry the load for the team.
"Not trying to hit (a home run) every at-bat but trying to do too much every at-bat," Rodriguez said. "(We're) trying to put the team all on (ourselves), and we just got to let the team work. That's what the team's for - just trying to make every piece of the team work."
PLAYING THROUGH FATIGUE: The dog days of summer take their toll on players, and Mahoning Valley is no exception.
Still, Rodriguez said that's a part of the game, and the Scrappers are trying to get through it in order to finish out a tough season strong.
"Some people are tired, but we just got to keep on grinding and try to finish on a good note," Rodriguez said. "In baseball, you only feel good once a month - the rest is just tiredness. So, you just try to play through it."
"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."