Since the rule that places a runner at second base to begin extra innings was implemented to start last season, many teams across the Minors have employed the strategy of moving the runner to third to open the frame. When Connor Scott prepared to lead off the 10th on Friday, though, Class A Clinton manager Mike Jacobs' plan was a bit different.
"He actually came up to me and was like, 'Hey, don't worry about moving him over. I want you to drive him in. Let's just win it here,'" Scott recalled.
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He did more than just drive him in. The Marlins' No. 5 prospect blasted a two-run walk-off homer to cap a three-hit night, giving the LumberKings a 5-3 victory over Kane County at NelsonCorp Field.
With the game tied in the bottom of the 10th, Scott stepped in with the designated runner at second against reliever Andy Toelken, who had just entered. After taking three pitches and fouling off the fourth, he rocketed the fifth offering from the right-hander over the fence in right-center to plate Ricardo Cespedes and win the game for Clinton.
Scott also singled to right field to lead off the bottom of the first and grounded a base hit to left in the sixth. It was his second three-hit game of the season, and just the third of his young career.
Beyond that, it was a game to remember within the entirety of the 19-year-old's career as a ballplayer.
"It was awesome," he said. "It was my first pro walk-off home run. I don't think I had one in high school, either. Kind of can't beat that feeling."
The win snapped a three-game skid for the LumberKings after they were swept by Wisconsin earlier in the week. While Scott is definitely happy to have turned in such a memorable and emphatic performance, he's more proud to deliver a much-needed spark to help get the team back on track.
"It was even better just because it was a confidence-booster for all of us and will give us some good momentum," he said.
The win also will have more cosmetic effects moving forward, Scott joked.
"We had the water cooler bath," he said. "One of the guys came in there with the Gatorade cooler bath, then all of our pants were pink at the end of that. I guess we'll see how it goes tomorrow -- might be wearing pink pants tomorrow."
Last year's first-round pick boosted his line to .223/.292/.348 through 46 games in his first full professional season, and he has three homers and 18 RBIs. He batted .223/.319/.311 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer before earning a promotion to Class A Greensboro, where he hit .211/.295/.276 with one long ball.
The biggest focus for Scott coming into this season wasn't refining his swing or tuning up his pitch selection. It was seeking out advice and opportunities to learn, something especially impactful on a guy just one year removed from high school graduation.
"If I ask myself now what I should've done last year, it's ask more questions," he said. "I think the biggest part of growing as a baseball player and as a person is asking questions, especially when you have resources like you do in professional baseball ... whether it's routes in the outfield, baserunning, literally anything. If you've got something on your mind, just ask."
If he continues to embrace that mind-set and improves, performances like Friday night will come, as will the wins. In the grand scheme of things, according to Scott, that's what this whole thing is about.
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"We're trying to build a championship organization, top to bottom," he said. "I think the biggest thing is to buy in to trying to be a winner. It starts in [Class A], it starts when you're 19 years old. The biggest part for us is just winning ballgames. That's our favorite thing to do. It sucks to lose. It's just a lot of fun to win."
Tenth-ranked Marlins prospect Will Banfield also homered for the LumberKings, while Davis Bradshaw added two hits and an RBI.
Tyler Mitzel (4-3) picked up the win with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, allowing one hit and striking out three.