The Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, dropped their first game of the season in a 5-4 loss to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on Saturday night. In a game that saw multiple late lead changes and ties, Lehigh Valley finally emerged on top in the 11th inning on a walkoff single by second baseman Cesar Hernandez.
Lehigh Valley (1-2) took its first lead of the series in the bottom of the first inning against Syracuse starter Yunesky Maya. With one out, Hernandez laced a low line drive into left field that skipped past Micah Owings and turned into a triple. Third baseman Cody Asche grounded the next pitch to shortstop, plating Hernandez for a 1-0 lead.
Syracuse (2-1) reclaimed the lead in the third inning thanks to second baseman Jeff Kobernus. With Carlos Rivero at second base and two outs, Kobernus blasted off against left-hander Adam Morgan for a two-run home run to left field. The home run matched Kobernus' total from last season with Double-A Harrisburg, when he hit just one in 82 games, and gave the Chiefs a 2-1 lead.
However, that was all the Chiefs would get against Morgan, who tossed six innings of two-run ball in his Triple-A debut. He struck out five and walked just one before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Then, in the seventh inning, the IronPigs struck for a pair of runs. After right fielder Leandro Castro's leadoff single, catcher Steve Lerud hit a bouncing ball off of first baseman Chris Marrero's glove. Kobernus picked up the ricochet and threw wildly to first, allowing Castro to take third base on a second error. Martinez then knocked a sacrifice fly into left field, tying the game at two and chasing Maya.
Left-hander J.C. Romero entered and was greeted rudely with a pinch-hit single from Josh Fields. After a Tyson Gillies fielder's choice groundout, Hernandez slashed a single into center field, giving Lehigh Valley a 3-2 lead.
Syracuse wasn't done. After a leadoff single by pinch-hitter Jimmy Van Ostrand in the eighth inning, center fielder Eury Perez knocked the 12th pitch of his at-bat against Jake Diekman into center field for a double, sending Van Ostrand to third base. Kobernus followed up with a groundout to shortstop, scoring Van Ostrand to even the score at three.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, right-hander Michael Crotta entered and recorded the first two outs before inducing a pop-up from Castro on the left side of the infield. However, third baseman Carlos Rivero couldn't make the play as the rest of the Chiefs' infield fled, leading Castro to take second base on a bizarre infield double. After a walk to Lerud, Martinez punched the winning blow into center field with a first-pitch single, scoring Castro for a 4-3 lead.
The top of the ninth inning then turned the game from bizarre to nearly unbelievable. Owings started the frame with an infield single on a slow dribbler of a ground ball back to pitcher Justin DeFratus. Shortstop Zach Walters then laid down a sacrifice bunt, but reached first when DeFratus looked at second base with no Lehigh Valley infielder covering. With runners at first and second and nobody out, catcher Carlos Maldonado also attempted a bunt, and DeFratus bobbled for a fielding error, loading the bases. Rivero then grounded into a double play, plating pinch-runner Will Rhymes to tie the score at four, before DeFratus escaped with a strikeout of Van Ostrand.
The teams stayed in that deadlock until the 11th inning, when Lehigh Valley put together a rally against right-hander Ryan Tatusko. With one out and the bases clear, Tatusko walked three consecutive batters - Martinez, pinch-hitter Pete Orr and Gillies. Hernandez then bounced a ball toward a drawn-in Walters at shortstop, with the ball trickling into left field to end the game.
Syracuse still has a chance to claim a series win on Sunday afternoon with a 1:35 game. Right-hander Ryan Perry will throw for the Chiefs against IronPigs right-hander Ethan Martin.