In a battle between teams that have won five of the last six Northwest League titles, the five-game series between Hillsboro and Vancouver began with a flurry of ninth-inning fireworks.
The finale belonged to the Hops (6-3 first half, 30-17 overall) as WIll Gorman answered Otto Lopez's go-ahead three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning with a game-winning three-run blast in the bottom of the frame leading Hillsboro to a thrilling 8-5 win in front of 3,932 ecstatic fans at Ron Tonkin Field.
The Hops were an out away from nailing down a 4-2 win when Kai-Wei Lin (3-1) experienced an uncharacteristic bout of wildness in the ninth, issuing back-to-back walks to Sterling Guzman and Brett Wright to bring up the number nine hitter Otto Lopez. Lopez hit .417 in four games against Hillsboro in British Columbia a little over a week ago and when the Hops left town he was batting north of .360 in the NWL. But the second-year utility man was 0-for-his-last-14 before he belted a 2-1 Lin pitch over the left field fence to give Vancouver (5-4, 24-23) a 5-4 lead.
Troy Miller, a player signed out of the Cape Cod a little over a week ago by the Blue Jays, had retired the side with two strikeouts in the eighth inning, but walked Hops leadoff man Jake McCarthy on four pitches to start the ninth. On came six-foot-nine former ASU Sun Devil Fitz Stadler (0-2) to try and get the save for Miller. Stadler had allowed just one unearned run over eight previous NWL outings, but he walked Geraldo Perdomo on five pitches. After a double-play grounder by Andy Yerzy moved McCarthy to third base, Stadler uncorked a wild pitch to score the speedy former Virigina Cavalier, tying the game 5-5.
The Hops weren't finished. Joey Rose belted his 17th double and league-leading 23rd extra-base hit off the wall in center field and after an intentional walk to Francis Martinez, who had given the Hops the lead with a two-run double in the 7th, up came Gorman. A second-year pro out of Division III Rochester Institute of Technology, facing the towering Pac-12 prospect, Gorman was appearing in just his fifth game for the Hops this season, despite being on their opening day roster. Back on June 15, in his second at bat of the year, Gorman took a Max Roberts fastball square in the teeth causing all sorts of dental and facial damage. Expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks after being transported to a regional trauma center and into immediate surgery, Gorman wasn't even gone a month returning to action in the Arizona League on July 13 before a five-game stint in the Pioneer league at Missoula, where he had a hit in all five games.
Gorman returned to the Hops during their last series at Spokane and went 4-for-4 with two runs and two RBI two nights ago in a win over the Indians. But that didn't hold a candle to Wednesday night as with most of the crowd of nearly 4,000 had stuck around on a beautiful evening to see if the Hops could cash in their seventh walk-off win of the season. He didn't let them down as he unloaded on a Stadler fastball and lined it just over the fence in right to set off a milder-than-usual celebration to protect the recently fractured bones in his face and broken teeth.
Lin got credit for the win, despite his rocky ninth inning. He came on to strike out clean-up hitter Bryan Lizardo with a runner on second base in the eighth before surrendering two walks, two hits and three earned runs in the ninth.
McCarthy reached base four times for the Hops, officially 1-for-2 on the night with a pair of runs. Martinez went 3-for-4 with his biggest hit coming in the seventh. With Hillsboro down 2-1, Dan Swain and McCarthy drew back-to-back, one-out walks. Perdomo followed with a grounder toward first. Trying to get the force at second base, Jake Brodt's throw was wild, scoring Swain with the tying run and putting runners at the corners. After Rose walked with two outs to load the bases, Martinez shot a grounder past the diving third baseman Lizardo down the left-field line for a two-run double to put the Hops up 4-2.
Brodt had a pair of doubles for Vancouver. His double to the left field corner scored Lizardo with the first run of the game in the second inning. Brodt would also score on the play after Perdomo's relay throw to the plate bounced out of play, giving Vancouver a 2-0 lead. Those were the only runs allowed by Hops starting pitcher Matt Tabor, who struck out a season-high seven with one walk and five hits allowed over five innings. Only one of the two runs was earned.
The Hops and Canadians play game two of the five-game series Thursday night at 7:05 p.m. at Ron Tonkin Field. Live pregame coverage on NBC Sports Northwest Rip City Radio 620 AM and ripcityradio.com begins at 7 p.m.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.