Top 10 Stripers Moments of 2018

Acuna, Riley, Kazmar Jr. cement their places in Gwinnett baseball lore

By Dan Reiner / Gwinnett Stripers | September 12, 2018 9:20 AM

With a 139-game schedule, the Gwinnett Stripers' 2018 baseball season was filled with dramatic and memorable moments. 

The return of top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. had all eyes on Gwinnett to start the season, as did the arrivals of pitchers Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard. Some mid-season additions, including Austin Riley and Bryse Wilson, made the season exciting from start to finish.

Here we look back at an unforgettable 2018 season and count down the Top 10 Moments :

10. Berryhill notches 500th win

On May 6 at Indianapolis, the Stripers won 4-1 in a rain-shortened, 5.0-inning game. That victory also marked the 500th win of Damon Berryhill's managerial career, which spans 10 seasons. Through two seasons with the Gwinnett, he carries a record of 141-140 (.504).

9. Bautista's go-ahead blast completes comeback in Charlotte

Though his 10-game career with Gwinnett was short-lived, the Atlanta Braves' experiment with Jose Bautista at third base was surely memorable. His big moment as a Striper came on May 1 at Charlotte.

At one point down four runs and trailing by two entering the ninth, Bautista completed the Gwinnett comeback by smashing a go-ahead two-run homer. The Stripers would go on to win 8-6 thanks to Bautista's heroics.

8. Peterson makes circus catch in right

Dustin Peterson was named Gwinnett's Most Competitive Player in 2018 for good reason; he hustled out of the box on every play and he's known for flashing the leather. No play personified Peterson's spirit more than his juggling circus catch on July 17 vs. Indianapolis.

Peterson made a lunging attempt on a Pablo Reyes line drive toward the right field corner. As he fell to the ground, the ball popped out of Peterson's glove before securing it for the out. The spectacular catch prevented extra bases to start the inning.

7. Acuña ignites rally for first Stripers homer

Entering 2018, Ronald Acuna Jr. was rated the No. 2 prospect in baseball by and had many believing he was ready for "The Show" with the Braves. But Acuña got off to a rough start, batting .139 over his first nine games.

On April 17, Acuña crushed his first home run of the season vs. Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, a two-run shot that ignited a Stripers comeback in a 8-3 win. The homer also began a stretch of hits in seven of his last eight games for Gwinnett before being called up to Atlanta on April 25.

6. Walker dominates in debut to secure winning season

With three of Gwinnett's starting pitchers receiving call-ups to the Braves on September 1, righty Jeremy Walker was promoted from Advanced-A Florida to make a spot-start in the season's penultimate game for his Triple-A debut.

The 23-year-old not only threw 8.0 scoreless, three-hit innings against Charlotte, but the win improved Gwinnett's record to 70-68, guaranteeing the club a winning season.

5. Kazmar Jr. becomes Gwinnett hits, RBI king

Sean Kazmar Jr. entered 2018 leading the Gwinnett career leaderboard in games played, at-bats, doubles and runs. On April 14, he passed Jose Constanza for the club's all-time hits record (438) with a double vs. Rochester. On July 2, he tallied his Gwinnett-best 200th RBI with a solo home run at Durham.

Kazmar's crowning as Hit King even earned him recognition on that night's edition of SportsCenter on ESPN.

4. Soroka, Acuña carry Stripers to 1-0 win at Rochester

In game one of a doubleheader in frigid Rochester on April 23, the Stripers earned a 1-0 victory in 7.0 innings thanks to Acuña and Mike Soroka.

Acuña manufactured Gwinnett's lone run when he reached on walk to lead off the fourth inning, then stole both second and third bases - his second and third steals of the game. Rehabbing Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers grounded out to score Acuña for the eventual winning run.

Meanwhile, Soroka held the Red Wings scoreless in a 7.0-inning complete-game shutout, allowing just three hits with four strikeouts.

3. Ruiz lifts walk-off homer to beat Indians

Gwinnett's 2018 Most Valuable Player had a role in a handful of big moments for the Stripers, but none were more clutch than his two-run walk-off home run vs. Indianapolis on July 18. The homer gave the Stripers a 4-2 win, their fifth straight and seventh in eight games at the time. It was also Gwinnett's only walk-off homer in 2018.

The walk-off was the first of three in a five-day span for the Stripers, with Jonathan Morales hitting a walk-off single on July 21 and Ruiz adding a walk-off single of his own on July 22.

2. Wilson sets Gwinnett Strikeout Record to sweep Louisville

In his August 15 start vs. Louisville, hard-throwing righty Bryse Wilson made it clear why the Braves quickly moved him through their system in 2018. The 20-year-old dominated the Bats over 8.0 one-hit innings, striking out 13 while facing the minimum 24 batters in a 4-3 win, completing a three-game sweep.

Wilson's 13 strikeouts broke a nearly decade-old Gwinnett franchise record, previously held by Charlie Morton's mark of 12 on April 12, 2009. He earned International League Pitcher of the Week for his triumph, and later that week received his first big-league call-up to Atlanta for his MLB debut on August 20.

1. Riley's three homers, Allard's gem lead to 10-0 win on Mother's Day

It's not often that two players have career efforts in the same game, but that's what Kolby Allard and Austin Riley did on Mother's Day, May 13 vs. Norfolk.

Riley, in his seventh career Triple-A game, went 4-for-5 with three home runs and eight RBIs to power Gwinnett's offense. The 21-year-old's last home run came in the eighth inning, when he walloped a grand slam as an exclamation point.

Not to be outdone by his teammate, the 20-year-old Allard held the Tides scoreless over 8.0 innings, allowing just two hits with eight strikeouts. The Stripers won the game, 10-0, due to the combined effort.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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