In 2006, the Tri-City ValleyCats opened the season at home against the Oneonta Tigers, giving up two runs in the ninth inning to lose a 7-6 heartbreaker.
Tonight, the ValleyCats began their year at Joe Bruno Stadium for the first time since that game. Like their last home opener, the contest was decided in the final frame. But this time Tri-City came out victorious, earning a 4-3 victory on a walk-off single by shortstop Oscar Figueroa.
With the game tied at three, second baseman Enrique Hernandez drove a base hit into left field to lead off the inning. Wilton Infante successfully bunted pinch runner Ben Orloff to second base, setting the stage for the second-year shortstop.
Figueroa ripped a line drive down the left-field line, allowing Orloff to easily score the game-winning run.
Before the last inning, Tri-City's offense was all about Michael Kvasnicka. The right fielder homered for the ValleyCats' first run, scored the second and was at the plate for the third, when Connecticut starter Clemente Mendoza balked home Infante.
Kvasnicka, the 33rd overall selection in this month's amateur draft, did not take long to make his presence felt in the professional ranks. With two outs and nobody on in the first inning, he sent Clemente's first offering into the Tri-City bullpen for an opposite-field home run.
"Even as I was running the bases, I was thinking that it was surreal," Kvasnicka said of his welcoming to the pros. "I got a good pitch to hit, and I was ready to hit it. I still don't believe it - I was between first and third, and the whole time I was thinking, 'is this really happening?'"
In his next at-bat, the Minnesota native again wasted no time. Kvasnicka led off the fourth inning with a first-pitch double in the left-center field gap. After a Tyler Burnett grounder advanced him to third, catcher Ben Heath drove a breaking ball to the fringe of the warning track in center field, allowing Kvasnicka to jog home and tie the game at two runs apiece.
"I'm an aggressive hitter," Kvasnicka said. "If it's in the zone, I'm usually going to be swinging at it".
Kvasnicka was on deck when Figueroa drove home the game-winning run.
The rest of the ValleyCats did not hit poorly, but they struggled to push runs across. Tri-City left the bases loaded after Kvasnicka scored in the fourth inning, and stranded two more runners in the sixth. The hosts knocked 12 base hits, but only had four runs to show for it.
Fortunately for the ValleyCats, their pitching was terrific. Righty Carlos Quevedo struck out the side in the first inning, and fanned the same three batters again in the third. Quevedo went after hitters aggressively, throwing first-pitch strikes to each of the first 12 Tigers. The strategy was mostly successful, as batters swung helplessly at pitches up in the zone.
But the bottom of Connecticut's lineup figured him out. Designated hitter Ryan Enos hit a deep fly ball that dropped just inside the left-field line for a double, allowing James Robbins and Brett Anderson to score. Three innings later, Enos smacked his second double of the game, another moonshot that fell just past Infante's outstretched arm. Catcher Eric Roof drove Enos home with a base hit to right field.
The Tri-City bullpen took over and performed fabulously. Southpaw Chris Blazek relieved Quevedo and got out of the jam, stranding a pair of Tigers. Connecticut would get only one baserunner the rest of the way. Blazek, David Martinez, Joan Belliard and Travis Blankenship combined to retire 14 of the game's final 15 batters. The Tri-City pitching staff struck out 15 batters and did not allow a single walk.
After Blazek escaped the fifth-inning jam, Tri-City answered right away. Infante doubled down the left-field line, and advanced to third on a Figueroa bunt single. With runners on the corners and the fearsome Kvasnicka at the plate, Mendoza began his delivery, strode towards the plate and abruptly stopped. The balk allowed Infante to trot home for the game-tying run.
A sellout crowd of 5,370 fans filled Joseph Bruno Stadium on Friday Night, an Opening Day record for Tri-City. The ValleyCats will draw their 1,000,000th fan in franchise history on Saturday.
The Tigers will look to redeem themselves tomorrow night at 7:00. The visitors will start Luis Sanz, while Tri-City counters with rookie righty Bobby Doran.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.