Twice down to a final strike in the ninth inning Monday, South Bend didn't quit. Six innings later, manager Mark Haley and his players headed out to the Waffle House.
D-backs prospects Rudy Flores and Roidany Aguila hit back-to-back homers to even the score in the top of the ninth and Fidel Pena scored the winning run in the 15th inning on a play at the plate to give the Class A Silver Hawks an 8-7 win over the Hot Rods at Bowling Green Ballpark.
"It was unbelievable," Haley said. "That's been the makeup of this team the entire year. They'll fight and claw until the last possible option. We've done it a few times and come up short. I wish they'd do it a little earlier, but the ninth inning comes, and they just grind up and battle. The two guys who hit the home runs had 10 strikeouts and three hits."
Outside of that eventful ninth, Aguila doubled and struck out four times in six other at-bats and Flores fanned in six of his seven other plate appearances.
Pena singled to lead off the 15th, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Luke Maile. Breland Almadova then hit a fly ball to center fielder Andrew Toles, who threw a strike to the plate as Pena raced homeward.
"The fly ball play at the plate, there's no outs, strategic-wise, it probably wasn't very smart," Haley said. "Here you've got [Brandon] Drury coming up with one out and a guy on third, but we just said 'Screw it, we're going to push it, we might not get another chance.' The guy made a good throw, but the catcher just dropped it. We were like, 'Phew.' The burgers in the locker room are cold already, it's going to be a 24-hour Waffle House kind of night."
Haley said the team's never-say-die attitude has gone viral.
"When you create an environment that they've created when you've got tons of confidence and battle, their motto is 'Why not? Get in there and give it everything you've got, leave it all on the field.' When you do it one or two times before when you come back with big innings late in the game, it gets kind of contagious."
The bullpen posted seven straight zeros to finish the game. Tyler Green gave up a hit and struck out a pair in two scoreless innings before handing the ball off to Henry Garcia (7-0), who allowed just a hit and a walk and struck out six in four shutout frames to earn the win. Jose Jose then fanned one in a perfect 15th to pick up his fourth save.
"The bullpen has been doing a great job. Every once in a while, there's been a hiccup, but the general environment is great," Haley said. "The pitchers all hang with the position players and vice versa. They have a group thing, they're all in it together and pull for each other. It's exciting to be around.
"When you coach a long time, it's unique where you can get so many guys in a locker room who enjoy each other -- especially in August, it's kind of like when you're married."
Drury went 3-for-7 with two doubles, a walk and a run scored. Pena had three hits in eight at-bats and two RBIs.
The 15-inning affair was the longest game in Bowling Green history.