FRESNO- Surely by the time Eugenio Velez stepped into the box with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 12th, trailing by one, the Grizzlies knew of their fate. With Sacramento's victory earlier in the night, Fresno's playoff hopes had already been dashed, but they Grizzlies were still looking to snap out of a season-worst seven-game slide. Velez worked a 3-2 count, then torched Anthony Varvaro's payoff pitch deep into the right field seats for a walk-off grand slam to propel Fresno to a 10-7 victory over Tacoma at Chukchansi Park on Friday night.
It was Fresno's first walk-off home run of the campaign, coming in the season's 141st game. It also marked just the fourth win for Fresno in its 14 extra-inning affairs this year. It was also the Grizzlies' longest contest of 2010, clocking in at four hours, 22 minutes. Most importantly, though, the victory snapped a season-long seven-game losing streak.
In the top of the 12th, Rainiers first baseman Mike Carp blasted a solo shot off Denny Bautista (3-2) to put Tacoma in front. It was his second home run of the night, sailing deep over the batter's eye in center field.
The end result was rendered meaningless in the grand scheme of things, as Sacramento beat Colorado Springs 12-8 to clinch its ninth division crown in 11 seasons and eliminate the Grizzlies from post-season contention. Nevertheless, Fresno fought back from a 3-0 hole to force extra innings and won despite leaving the winning run on base in the eighth, ninth, 10th, and 11th innings.
Tacoma scored a run without a hit in the top of the second, walking three times in front of a Rob Johnson sacrifice fly to take an early 1-0 lead. They added to that on Carp's first longball, a two-run, opposite field home run in the third. Carp's two-homer game was his second of the season against Fresno, as he has hit five bombs in just seven games against the Grizzlies this season.
The Grizzlies put the leadoff man on base in each of the first three innings but failed to score. It took until Tyler Graham reached on an error to lead off the fifth for Fresno to push across a run. One out later Velez singled to right, with Graham advancing to third. David Winfree's ill-advised throw through the cut-off man from right field short-hopped third baseman Matt Mangini into the stands, allowing Graham to score and Velez, who had advanced to second on the throw, to reach third base. Emmanuel Burriss then grounded out to second to score Velez and cut the gap to 3-2.
Grizzlies starter Kevin Pucetas pitched well after that, but could not get the final out of the sixth inning. After two quick ground outs, Greg Hallman doubled and Johnson was hit by a pitch, bringing up Mike Wilson. After a short delay as the trainer tended to Johnson, Wilson hit a towering fly ball down the left field line that landed in the first row for a three-run blast to push the lead to 6-2.
Fresno struck right back with its own three-run bomb in the bottom half of the frame. After Brett Pill and Ryan Rohlinger singled back-to-back with one out, Ben Copeland took a Blake Beavan offering deep to right-center, just to the left of the manual scoreboard. Graham followed with a single to chase Beavan, but was caught stealing second in front of Johnny Monell's double to the gap in right-center, costing the Grizzlies a chance to level the score. Velez grounded out to short to end the inning with the score remaining 6-5.
The Grizzlies got even with one out in the seventh, as Jesus Guzman launched a 2-2 offering from Scott Paterson over the seats in left field. It was Guzman's team-leading 18th home run of the season.
Guzman singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth and Brandon Belt followed by working back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk to move the winning run to second. But Brett Pill struck out swinging for the second out and Ryan Rohlinger grounded out to third to send the game in extra innings.
Grizzlies pitching struck out a season-high 16 Rainiers, including 10 over a four-inning span from the eighth through 11th innings. Lefty reliever Joe Paterson fanned five of the six batters he faced over 2.0 scoreless frames.
WP: Bautista (3-2); LP: Cortes (1-2); S: None; HR: Carp 2 (29), Wilson (17), Copeland (4), Guzman (18), Velez (7)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.