OMAHA, Neb. - Down to their final four outs and looking like their 65-day grip on first place was about to come loose, the Omaha Storm Chasers pulled together a late rally and stunned the (still) second-place Memphis Redbirds 6-2 Tuesday afternoon at Werner Park. The knockout punch was delivered by Kila Ka'aiahue, who launched a two out, bottom-of-the-ninth, 3-1 pitch just over the wall in deep right-center to clear the bases and set off the first home plate celebration in Werner Park history.
The two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth was the catalyst to the comeback, sparked by an opposite field double by Clint Robinson. After Joaquin Arias pinch ran and Ka'aihue was walked intentionally, Lorenzo Cain laid off a couple tough pitches before dropping a single into shallow right field to tie the score at 2-2. Robinson and Cain each entered the game hitless in their last four contests, but had a pair of hits in this one.
In the ninth, Manny Pina and Irving Falu started the inning with singles, followed by a beautiful sacrifice bunt by Mike Aviles. Aviles, who homered earlier in the afternoon, now has seven long balls in 18 games with Omaha this season. Johnny Giavotella drew an intentional walk to set up the force at home, and Arias (batting in Robinson's spot) popped to shallow right for the second out. That set up the final at-bat for Ka'aihue, who had yet to hit a home run at Werner Park before his game-winner.
Earning the win for the Chasers was Jeremy Jeffress (2-2), who worked the final two innings in relief of PCL ERA leader Luis Mendoza. Jeffress allowed a solo home run in the eighth to briefly spot the Redbirds a 2-1 lead, but was able to hold Memphis scoreless in the ninth. Mendoza kept the Storm Chasers in the ballgame for the first seven frames, lowering his ERA to 2.75 and allowing just a run on four hits. Former Nebraska star Andrew Brown tallied the lone run off Mendoza with a home run.
The victory for Omaha (43-37) bumped their margin in the American Conference Northern Division back up to 1.5 games over Memphis (41-38), who had been looking to take three of four from the Storm Chasers in the series. Any number of scenarios can play out from here, but perhaps one stands above the rest: with an 8-4 head-to-head advantage and a division record of 23-13 to the Redbirds' 13-15 mark, all potential tie-breakers look to be firmly in the Omaha column.
The Chasers will get a rare home off-day Wednesday before returning to action at 7:05 Thursday evening against the Albuquerque Isotopes, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 'Topes (42-37) are banged up coming in, with sluggers John Lindsey and Jay Gibbons on the disabled list and the team coming off a four-game sweep in Des Moines at the hands of the resurgent Iowa Cubs. Omaha and Albuquerque have split eight games this season, all of which have been played in New Mexico.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.