The best way to describe the game at First National Bank Field Friday night was to watch the Hoppers' players going into the clubhouse.
"That was a wild game," someone said.
"We got by with one there," offered another.
"Loco," was the summary of first baseman Lozardo Alonso.
"Muy loco," agreed shortstop Jose Devers.
Everyone wore big grins as they gave their analysis, so it wasn't hard to figure out they were on the winning side.
Trailing 8-2 after five innings, the Hoppers rallied to beat the Greenville Drive 9-8. Zach Sullivan's single drove in Michael Hernandez with the winning run.
Despite all the craziness that happened during the first eight innings, the game boiled down to the ninth with the score tied 8-8. In the top half, the Drive's Victor Acosta was on second base with two outs when Everlouis Lozada singled to left field.
As Acosta steamed around third base for home, Jhonny Santos fielded the ball and unleashed a low throw that came in on one long hop to catcher Michael Hernandez. He fielded it cleanly, dropped down a tag on a close play and heard the home plate umpire call "Safe!"
"We practiced that play today," Hernandez said, "and it was a perfect throw. The ball hits the grass and takes off and it's easy for me to receive. I'm pretty sure I got him. I tagged something, probably his legs, and I'm glad the umpire got it right."
Sullivan, watching from right field, said "it was a big-time play and we needed it. It was the third out and brought us the momentum (into the bottom of the ninth). And whenever we have the momentum, we roll."
And the Hoppers didn't waste any time. Hernandez led off and reached safely on a two-base throwing error advanced to third on a wild pitch.
"I was just trying to get on base any way I could and give my guys a chance to win," he said.
Santos popped up on a bunt for the first out to bring up Sullivan, who was 0-for-3 and had been hit by a pitch. The Drive pulled the infield in, so Sullivan could bloop one to the outfield, drive the ball through the infielders or hit a sacrifice fly. Any would have scored Hernandez.
But on a 2-2 count, Sullivan drilled a solid single to drive in the winning run. He rounded first and was overrun by his teammates, who doused him with a Gatorade bath.
"I just wanted to be on top of the fastball," Sullivan said of his approach. "If they threw a breaking ball, I wanted to foul it off. They had beaten me with a fastball twice and struck me out. With two strikes, I was just looking to put the ball in play. I got a fastball inside and I made sure I was on time."
There was no real flow to the game. In the fifth inning, the Drive scored all eight of its runs. The Hoppers ave up three runs and looked like they were going to stop the bleeding after Greenville's first three runs. But a ground ball by C.J. Chatham, which was headed right to Devers to get the third out, instead struck base umpire Harley Acosta.
When that happens, the ball is dead, the batter is awarded a single and all the runners move up a base. So that sent the runner home from third and kept the bases loaded. Marino Campana then unloaded a high drive down the left field line that stayed fair for a grand slam homer. The Hoppers were down 8-2 with that dramatic turn of events.
They got back even by scoring six times in the sixth inning. Thomas Jones hit his fourth homer in three games to get things rolling, Sam Castro drew a bases-loaded walk to score a run, Micah Brown had a two-run single and Alonso cracked a two-run double off the wall to tie the game.
"This is the 26th game of the year," said manager Todd Pratt, "and we've learned that even when we're down 8-2, there's plenty of game left and we still have confidence."
The win boosted the Hoppers to 15-11 and dropped the Drive to 5-23. Brady Puckett will start Saturday's game for the Hoppers, which begins at 7 p.m.
NOTES: Alonso's pair of doubles resulted in three RBIs … In six games he's hitting .593 (16-for-27) with five doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs … Jones, in his three games, is batting .500 (6-for-12) with four homers, six RBIs and eight runs scored … Reliever Colton Hock rebounded strongly from a bad outing on Wednesday to pitch two scoreless innings and earn his fourth win … Tyler Frohwirth got a big out in the seventh inning when he retired Campana, who had hit the grand slam his previous trip, on a line drive to Jones in center field … The teams combined for five errors, three by the Hoppers.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.