The runners weren't real, but Willy Garcia's walk-off certainly was.
Pittsburgh's No. 11 prospect put an end to the Eastern League All-Star Ghostman Games on Tuesday in his home park in Altoona, clubbing a walk-off blast with one out remaining in the Hitting Challenge to give the West a 22-21 win.
The Games, taking place ahead of the Double-A circuit's midsummer classic Wednesday, were composed of two parts, starting with a series of five skills competitions -- some skills more relevant to baseball than others -- and a hitting contest.
For the West, the hitting challenge participants included Garcia, Baltimore's Christian Walker and Washington's Michael Taylor. For the East, it was the New York Yankees' Peter O'Brien and Gary Sanchez along with Minnesota's Kennys Vargas.
"We were actually up … we had quite a good lead," O'Brien said. "[Garcia] started getting hot, hit some doubles and then he started driving balls out of the ballpark."
The six sluggers had 27 ghost runners at their disposal -- six preassigned to each team and the other 15 divvied up during the first part of the competition. Per the CurveBall Blog:
-- Bubble gum blowing: Members from each division squared off to see who could blow a bubble the fastest. Both teams started at the same time and the next team member couldn't begin a bubble until the previous teammate blew a bubble and stuck it on the table. The first division to get through their players first won.
-- Mascot dodgeball: Members of the East and West played some dodgeball, trying to pick off Curve mascots. In the timed competition, the team that dispatched of all the mascots the quickest won ghost runners.
-- Disc toss: Very similar to a closest-to-the-pin competition in golf. Two members from each division threw three discs apiece from the second-base bag. Whichever team's discs were closest to the pin took the ghost runners.
-- Accuracy challenge: The team that threw the most bean bags through the target won this portion of the competition.
-- Tennis ball shoot: Involved six players from each division, with three manning a slingshot and three set up in the outfield. The goal was to shoot a tennis ball using the slingshot to their teammates in the outfield. The team that caught the most balls on the fly won the event.
The participants were predetermined, saving the All-Stars from jockeying amongst themselves to see who was most qualified to chomp out gum bubbles.
At the end of the first part, the East held a 15-12 advantage in ghost runners.
There were two ways to score in the hitting challenge. Players could deploy ghost runners at will and plate them with home runs or doubles -- doubles were shots that reached the warning track in the air and didn't soar over the outfield wall. If a player put a ghost runner aboard and recorded an out, the team lost that ghost runner.
O'Brien said he clubbed five homers in the derby, helping the East jump to a sizeable lead before Garcia's late heroics. The showcase wasn't O'Brien's first hitting challenge -- he competed in the Home Run Derby at last year's South Atlantic League All-Star Game and in the hitting challenge in the Arizona Fall League.
"It was definitely a lot of fun, coming out here, hanging out with the guys," he said. "Being able to hit in front of fans, you can get into it.
"The most important thing is to go out and have fun. It's still a competition, so you want to try to win. There was nothing I changed, maybe sometimes you try to change too much, try to hit it too hard. The fun part of it is being able to put on a show."
Among the other highlights in the hitting challenge was Sanchez clubbing the first ghost-runner grand slam and Bryant smacking a long homer to dead-center field.
The special Ghostman jerseys the players worn were auctioned off during the game, with fans able to bid on every player and coach jersey. Proceeds from the auction went to an Action Trackchair gifted to Jaime Heverly of Altoona, who was selected by AMBUCS Altoona in conjunction with the Curve. The Trackchair will enable Jaime to enjoy the outdoors with a chair equipped to handle all terrains.
Players on the West team were rewarded with $10 Chipotle gift cards for the win.