Baseball already has provided Brian Fletcher with a host of memories. Wednesday night, as he rounded third base, flipped his helmet into the air and leapt into his teammates ranks near the top.
Fletcher homered twice before play was suspended on Tuesday, then smacked a walk-off two-run shot in the 11th inning Wednesday to complete the first three-homer game in team history as Double-A Northwest Arkansas defeated Arkansas, 10-8, at Arvest Ballpark.
"It's a cool feeling. I did it once in college, went 4-for-4 with three homers," Fletcher said. "But doing it at this level, it's pretty special. It was pretty neat coming around the bases after hitting a walk-off, seeing everyone at the plate. It's pretty cool, I'm just happy I was able to get it over the outfielder's head, so it was pretty special."
The Royals' No. 17 prospect went 5-for-6 with five RBIs and four runs scored. Not only was the three-homer effort a Naturals record, the team set another mark with seven home runs, one of which came off the bat off pinch-hitter Orlando Calixte and tied the game in the bottom of the ninth.
Despite all the balls leaving the park, Fletcher said he did not dig in with hopes of hitting another over the fence.
"Even when I hit the first two homers, I'm not thinking about it," he said. "I'm just trying to have a good at-bat, making sure my foot is down, my timing, trying to recognize the pitch and put a good swing on it. Fortunately, I was able to have some productive swings yesterday; and coming in today, I wasn't thinking about it. Just put a ball in play and try to get the 'W.'"
Fletcher began the game on Tuesday with a two-run blast in the first. He added a solo shot in the fifth before the game was halted in the 10th due to a thunderstorm. When play resumed Wednesday, Northwest Arkansas stranded two runners in the 10th before Brett Eibner hit a one-out double in the 11th to set the stage for Fletcher's heroics against Angels No. 2 prospect Nick Maronde.
"It's unusual to go into extra innings and not be able to finish up a tight game, but at that moment, you want to get that run in," Fletcher said. "Coming into today, you just treat it like another game and at-bat, and with Brett being on second with a big double, I'm just looking to drive him in. I wanted to get a pitch I could handle and put a good swing. I was able to hit it out, but I was just trying to have a good at-bat."
Eibner finished 3-for-5 with a pair of solo homers and Cheslor Cuthbert, the Royals' No. 9 prospect, added his third longball of the season.
"It was a slugfest. This team and those guys, one through nine, everyone was crushing the ball, so it was a battle," said Fletcher, a 24-year-old outfielder. "They started coming back, they got some big runs and it was some big names. We're slugging it out and ended up winning it. It was big coming into the day, we knew they'd be swinging again."
Arkansas mashed its way to an 8-7 lead by the seventh, thanks to the heart of its lineup. Cyle Hankerd went 4-for-5 with his first homer and two RBIs, Angels No. 3 prospect C.J. Cron added three hits and an RBI and top prospect Kaleb Cowart went 3-for-6 while plating a pair of runs. Together, the teams totaled 31 hits.
Fletcher bumped his average up to .312 and has five homers in his last nine games. It was his first multi-homer effort since going 3-for-5 with a pair of roundtrippers and four RBIs on June 6 against Tulsa. He also accomplished the feat on July 16, 2012 against Arkansas.
Fletcher had a pair of two-homer games in 2011, including a seven-RBI contest for Class A Kane County on June 25. On that memorable day, he waited through a 2 1/2-hour rain delay before adding to his RBI total.
"Having those nights in the past, it's a great feeling. And to get the win for your team is a good feeling," he said. "Having those good nights, plus the win, it's a special feeling. I'm not trying to think about hitting home runs or do too much -- all these guys are hitting well, so it's great having the confidence to go up there and know we've got guys backing each other up. This is a great group of guys, so I'm fortunate to be a part of it."
Northwest Arkansas completed the sweep Wednesday with a 7-0 blanking as Aaron Brooks (5-3) pitched a four-hitter for his first career complete-game shutout.
For Fletcher, who chipped in two hits, the season is playing out like he hoped.
"Absolutely. If anything, I'm just trying to be consistent each game and not letting one at-bat affect the other," he said. "With us winning, it makes you feel good. [This lineup] can rake and it's good feeling if you don't get a runner over, you have someone behind you to get the job done."
Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com.