LOUISVILLE, Ky - This night was supposed to be about top prospects Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani. Felix Perez stole the show. Cingrani set up the Bats with a near perfect six innings and a comfortable 3-0 lead. They would squander all three runs in the top of the ninth then come back in the bottom of the inning. Felix Perez belted a solo home run, the Bats' third of the night, off the right-field foul pole for the 4-3 walk-off win.
Cingrani's performance overshadowed the much anticipated debut of Billy Hamilton, the Reds highest-rated prospect. Hamilton set the professional baseball single season record for stolen bases in 2012, totaling 155 between Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. Hamilton made his presence known early, doubling to leadoff the first inning.
Henry Rodriguez followed suit in the second, leading off with a double and scoring on an RBI single from Denis Phipps. Newly acquired home run specialist Mike Hessman belted his 385th career minor league home run in the bottom of the fourth to give the Bats a 2-0 lead. Hessman wasn't done, as he added to his minor league career leading total with another solo shot in the bottom of the seventh. This marked the second straight year that a Bats player hit two home runs on Opening Day (Paul Janish, 2012).
This was Cingrani's best career performance since striking out 15 and walking one in a three-hit effort against the Double-A Jackson Generals in June 2012. His pitches routinely stayed in the 90-95 mph range, though he did hit the cellar with a few 75-mph curveballs. He finished his outing with no hits allowed and 13 strikeouts to only one walk in six innings.
Justin Freeman would relieve Cingrani in the seventh and stay hitless, but give up a single to former Bat Danny Dorn in the top of the eighth. The groundball was stopped by second baseman Kristopher Negron, but he was unable to cleanly get the ball out of his glove and giving up the hit.
Kevin Whelan would come in for a save opportunity, relieving Freeman who left after allowing one hit in two innings and striking out three. Whelan walked Holaday then appeared to settle down with a strikeout of Diaz. A dropped-catch error by shortstop Jason Donald on a potential game-ending double play put two runners on with one out. A double to left field by Russo scored one and a sacrifice fly by Castellanos scored another. With the score 3-2, two outs and a man on third, Whelan walked John Lindsey.
The Bats would put no one up in the bullpen, leaving Whelan to figure this one out. Dorn came up and delivered an RBI single to tie the game at 3-3. A messy final at-bat resulted in a strikeout for Whelan, sending the game into an impromptu bottom of the ninth.
It was a very short inning. Felix Perez hit the second pitch of the inning off the foul pole in right field, giving the Bats the 4-3 win. Prior to the home run, Perez was 0-for-3. It was the first walk-off home run for the Bats since July 2012. Perez was then mauled at home plate by his teammates.
Hamilton finished the game 1-for-4 with a double and a nifty defensive play. In the top of the seventh, Kevin Russo belted one into center field just short of Hamilton. Hamilton was able to get squared up and made an acrobatic slide to get the out. Top Detroit Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos was held hitless but did record an RBI on the sac fly.
The Bats pitching recorded 19 strikeouts, already beating last season's high of 15, while their offense whiffed only 5 times. Dorn showed poise at his old home park, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and the hit to break up the Bats team no-hitter. Dorn experienced a number of losses at Louisville Slugger Field last year, and Game 1 of the 2013 season was no different. Only this time, the Bats were victorious.