Rodriguez, Lookouts walk off as co-champs

Twins slugger smacks series-winning homer in ninth inning

The Chattanooga Lookouts celebrate their second Southern League championship in three years. (Brian McLeod/

By Michael Leboff / | September 11, 2017 9:59 PM

With his team trailing, 2-1, in the sixth inning, Chattanooga's Jonathan Rodriguez struck out swinging against reliever Edwin Fierro. As he walked toward first base to get ready for the top of the seventh, he swears he saw into the future.

"After that strikeout, as I was getting to first base, I had a vision," Rodriguez said. "I hit a walk-off and as I was rounding third base coming home, I pointed across my chest to where it says 'Chattanooga' on our jerseys."

With a runner on first and nobody out in the ninth, the dream came true as Rodriguez drilled a two-run homer to left field, giving Chattanooga the Southern League co-championship with a 3-2 win over Montgomery at AT&T Park. The Lookouts took the semifinal series, 3-2, and -- with the Finals canceled due to Hurricane Irma -- shared the title with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. 

Gameday box score

"He's been with us pretty much all year, right in the middle of the lineup," Lookouts manager Jake Mauer said. "He was outstanding the whole year in terms of at-bats, leadership and everything that he brings to the team. For him to come up and deliver in that spot is pretty special."

Four pitches into the game, the Lookouts fell behind as Rays No. 18 prospect Joe McCarthy took Dietrich Enns deep to right field for a leadoff homer. An inning later, the Lookouts tied it on Andy Wilkins' solo shot.

Nick Ciuffo put the Biscuits back in front in the fourth with an RBI single off Enns, who allowed two runs on five hits over four innings.  

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With their starter lifted, it was up to Chattanooga's bullpen to keep the team within striking distance. Randy LeBlanc took over in the fifth and threw two scoreless innings, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out one. Todd Van Steensel picked up where LeBlanc left off and posted a zero of his own. 

Anthony McIver needed 15 pitches get through the ninth with the Lookouts still trailing by a run in front of a crowd of 1,408. 

"We matched them zero for zero for pretty much the whole series," Mauer said. "It was a really well-pitched series. It was just nice that we were able to play clean defense to keep us in the game."

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The Biscuits called on Ian Gibaut (0-1) to close out the series, but Twins No. 17 prospect LaMonte Wade gave the Lookouts a lifeline with a leadoff single -- his third hit of the game. That set the stage for Rodriguez, who ended the Southern League season one pitch later.

"I knew it was gone right when I touched it," the 2009 17th-round Draft pick said. "It was up in the zone and it got the sweet spot. I knew it was gone right away."

"It was hit pretty good," Mauer added. "It wasn't one of those where you're hoping it would go over the fence, it was a no-doubter and our dugout erupted."

Blue Wahoos win share of Southern League Championship

As he rounded the bases, Rodriguez, a veteran of 913 Minor League games, had another vision -- this one looking back, rather than forward.

"It was surreal. I was thinking about all of my years in the Minor Leagues and what it took to get me to this point," the 28-year-old first baseman said. "I thought about all the grinding and the sacrifices. I thought about my family, my parents back home in Puerto Rico and how lucky we were with the hurricane. And I thought about my wife and how I hoped they were all there with me in that moment."

Michael Leboff is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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