Down three runs to Class A Dayton with a man on second and two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Quad Cities manager Russ Steinhorn had one thought in mind when his leadoff batter, Stephen Wrenn, stepped into the box with Rodrigo Ayarza on deck.
"We told [Wrenn], 'Hey, look, Ayarza's behind you, he's going to be the tying run. He's the left-handed hitter against the right-handed pitcher and he's got the ability to change the game with one swing. So put together a competitive at-bat to get him up.'" Steinhorn said.
Gameday box score
Wrenn singled to put runners at the corners for Ayarza, who fulfilled his manager's premonition with a three-run blast over the left-center field fence. The homer forced extra innings, but the River Bandits ended up dropping an 10-9, 11-inning decision at Fifth Third Field.
Video: Bandits' Ayarza belts three-run shot to force extras
The 22-year-old went 4-for-5 with five RBIs and two runs scored, falling a triple short of the cycle. Ayarza's .341 batting average is third-best in the Midwest League and his .957 OPS ranks sixth.
"He's just been outstanding. He's a guy that's been taking advantage of every opportunity that he's getting," Steinhorn said. "He's worked his way up from hitting in different spots in the lineup."
Wrenn reached on an error by center fielder Joseph Siri to open the game and scored on Ayarza's single. The Dragons tied it on on a sacrifice fly by Tyler Stephenson, the Reds' No. 7 prospect.
Ayarza bounced out in the third before Dayton extended the lead to 7-2 with a five-run fifth. The Panama native answered with his second hit -- a double -- in the sixth but was stranded when Chuckie Robinson bounced out and Ronnie Dawson went down on strikes.
The teams traded runs in the seventh before Ayarza was hit by a pitch in the eighth and scored on Robinson's first Midwest League homer. After the game-tying homer forced extra innings, Ayarza came up big again with a go-ahead single in the 11th.
"He's a switch-hitter that we consider a spark plug for our team and he goes up there, he's really aggressive, he looks for a pitch and he tries not to miss it every time," Steinhorn said. "He has a great approach; he goes about his business the right way. When the lights turn on, he's a gamer every night for us."
The Dragons rallied in the bottom of the 11th for the walk-off win against reliever Erasmo Pinales. Luis Gonzalez singled in the tying run and Reds No. 6 prospect T.J. Friedl lifted a sacrifice fly to center.
Despite the loss, Steinhorn learned a valuable lesson about his team and its motor, Ayarza.
"It's just one of those games where you're just proud of them, to be able to be a part of it and to see their character, it shows their fight. They have a big heart and to see them come together as a unit," the manager said. "Obviously, we're all fighting for the same thing: getting to the big leagues.
"It was a great night for [Ayarza], it was a great night for our team -- even though we lost -- to show the fight and the never-give-up mentality after being down until the ninth."
Stephenson drew three walks, had a hit, an RBI and a run scored in six plate appearances for Dayton. Taylor Trammell, the Reds' fourth-ranked prospect, doubled and tripled in five at-bats.