Tampa's Wilson does it all in marathon win

Backstop catches 15 innings, hurls two frames, slugs first pro homer

Wes Wilson is hitting .245 with five RBIs in 17 Florida State League games. (Gordon Donovan/MiLB.com)

By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com | June 19, 2015 1:40 AM

Officially, Yankees prospect Wes Wilson is listed as a catcher. Unofficially, he's an iron man two-way player, a lights-out closer, a jokester, and after his late-innings exploits Thursday, somewhat of a Tampa hero.

Wilson caught 15 innings behind the plate before tossing two perfect innings of relief and capping his mammoth night with a go-ahead homer in the 17th frame as the Class A Advanced Yankees outlasted the host Bradenton Marauders, 5-4.

"It seemed like it was a game that was never going to end," Wilson said. "Just kept going out there behind the plate and catching, and once the wee hours of the morning came around, everybody started asking who's going to throw next.

"I started to cramp [on the mound] in the 16th and 17th innings there. I started to feel it a little bit more because I'm using different muscles, but it got the adrenalin going just being somewhere else out there than behind the plate, where you're pigeon-holed. It was fun."

Batting ninth, things started normally for the 25-year-old signal caller, who saw his team rally from an early 3-0 deficit and then squander a 4-3 ninth-inning lead.

The Yankees and Marauders traded zeros for six more innings until Wilson started receiving the signs instead of flashing them. When he got ahead in the count, he started throwing knuckleballs to play with his catcher, Kyle Higashioka.

"I have this funky delivery and they wanted to see what that was all about," Wilson said. "Being a catcher and throwing pretty straight and narrow, those hitters can see it pretty well, so I had to add some deception with a high leg kick and a knuckleball.

"Last year, I pitched in a game against the Cardinals down here, where I caught 14 and pitched the last four. I think my velocity has gone down since last year. Before that, I hadn't pitched since 2007 in high school and I wasn't anything to write home about. I just pitched when they ran out of pitchers. I wasn't good. I'll be hurting for the next three days."

The Kentucky native retired No. 5 hitter Harold Ramirez -- who's hitting .395 this season -- on a groundout to begin the 16th before getting a popup off the bat of Jin-De Jhang and a fly ball from Jordan Steranka.

"It was awesome," Tampa's pitching coach Tommy Phelps said. "He looked like a pitcher. He had that high leg kick and the big thing was he got strike one and then went to a few knuckleballs."

After slugging his first professional homer of the year to left-center field off Marauders third baseman Chris Diaz to lead off the 17th, Wilson then worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the inning to set down Kawika Emsley-Pai, Wyatt Mathisen and Justin Maffei.

"I don't care if [the hits] come late, just that they come," said Wilson, who superstitiously always leaves two tickets for himself at will call marked "Hits" because he wants to make sure they can get in the game.

"It's hard to hit off those position players. You don't know if [a position player] is going to whip out a knuckleball or something fancy when you're in a two-strike hole. I got to two strikes and I was delirious and just looking for something in the zone and hoping he didn't have something in his pocket to beat me with. There might be an asterisk next to it, but as time goes on, it's going to count more. After I hit the home run, I saw the clock hit 11:11 and I said, 'Don't mess this up, it's the witching hour.'"

Wilson's home run ball ended up with a young fan behind the Tampa bullpen who traded it with Yankees pitcher Chris Smith for a bunch of other balls in the 'pen. Smith and his teammates have since held the collectible hostage.

Now in his fifth year of pro ball, Wilson apparently will get the ball back when he purchases several items for his colleagues including 10 shares in Apple for Smith, a steak dinner for Alex Smith, new shoes for Gio Gallergos, a Chinese dinner for Luis Niebla and Pro VI golf balls for Evan Rutckyj. Higashioka asked for new Lulu wardrobe, left-hander Eric Wooten told him he's better at pitching than giving stock tips and Phelps asked him to catch more side sessions.

"Hopefully I'll get those [shares] soon," Smith said. "Right before he hit the homer, I said wouldn't it be fun if he hit his first career homer now. Three pitches later, he did it. It was awesome. I just said, 'We have to get that ball.' He's such a great clubhouse guy and I was glad to be a part of it. It couldn't happen to a better guy."

In 107 career Minor League games, 25-year-old Wilson has played left field once and pitched three times. He threw five scoreless innings across two games for Tampa in 2014.

Hitting coach Tom Slater summed up the mood in the visiting clubhouse. "What a great kid. I mean, catching 15 innings, throwing two scoreless and hitting a homer? Couldn't happen to a better kid. This was really cool that it happened to him. I'm excited for him."

Tampa center fielder Michael O'Neill went 3-for-7 and missed hitting for the cycle by a triple and shortstop Abital Avelino, third baseman Miguel Andujar and left fielder Ericson Leonora collected two hits apiece in the win.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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