GREENSBORO ― Yoyner Fajardo slapped a two-strike pitch up the middle, a line drive past the shortstop and through the drawn-in infield, driving in Fabricio Macias with the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning and lifting the Greensboro Grasshoppers to a 7-6 victory over the Wilmington Blue
GREENSBORO ― Yoyner Fajardo slapped a two-strike pitch up the middle, a line drive past the shortstop and through the drawn-in infield, driving in Fabricio Macias with the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning and lifting the Greensboro Grasshoppers to a 7-6 victory over the Wilmington Blue Rocks at First National Bank Field on Thursday night.
Fajardo went 2-for-3 off the bench, as the Grasshoppers (21-26) rallied from a 5-1 deficit throuh six innings for a comeback win.
The win snapped a rough stretch for the Hoppers, who had lost four in a row and five of their last six while their offense struggled to score runs.
"We had a conversation with the offensive group today before the game," Hoppers manager Callix Crabbe said. "We really talked about being willing to trust their teammates. Think about what pressure really looks like as it relates to how you actually win a game. Most young hitters would think that means getting hits. But pressure really is forcing a pitcher try to make his best pitch over and over and over. After a little while, that can turn into a mistake. That's what pressure looks like."
That's what happened in the bottom of the eighth inning, when leadoff hitter Endy Rodriguez drew a walk on an 11-pitch at-bat. Rodriguez then scored on Jacob Gonzalez's RBI double, and Abrahan Gutierrez hit a towering opposite-field home run over the wall in right to tie the score 5-5.
"Often times, when you're scuffling, players think they have to do more to get a winning result," Crabbe said. "But sometimes it's the simple things that lead to good outcomes."
Simple things like Dariel Lopez running hard on Rodriguez's sinking line drive to left field in the ninth inning. Lopez scored all the way from first base when Wilmington outfielder Yasel Antuna tried to make a tumbling catch, missed the ball and it rolled all the way to the wall for a game-tying triple.
Simple things like Jack Herman, who went 2-for-5 with a run scored, laying down a sacrifice bunt in the 12th inning to move Macias to third base. That forced the infield to play in on the grass, and set the table for Farjardo's walk-off hit.
Simple things like scratching and clawing to just get on base. The Hoppers used 12 position players in the game, and all 12 got on bases at least once.
Gutierrez went 3-for-5 with his homer. Fajardo, Gonzalez, Herman and Sammy Siani all had two hits apiece.
"This group is so young, when they press they overdo it and try too hard," Crabbe said of the team slump. "We've got to be better at executing across the board, not just physically but procedurally. The reason they mess up isn't because they're not trying, it's because they're trying too hard. Somebody wants to be the new (Matt) Gorski. You lose a (power-hitting) player like that, and it's human nature to try to do more. But the reality is, they have each other."
The bullpen was good, too.
Lefty Nick Dombkowski (1-0) was supposed to have the day off, but instead pitched a scoreless 12th inning to pick up the win in relief.
Right-hander Cameron Junker came on with one out in the ninth and pitched out of a jam to keep the score tied, finishing with 2 2/3 scoreless innings. And right-hander Ricky DeVito retired all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings, striking out three.
"This is a group that has won before (in the low-A Florida State League)," Crabbe said. "But they have to redefine what winning looks like. They think it's going out and beating a team down so much they win by like an 8-1 score. But every level you go up, it's harder to beat teams that way. You have to do the things the game is asking you to do."
Things like the Hoppers did Thursday night.
- Greensboro is 8-6 in one-run games this season, and the Hoppers have won seven of their last eight one-run games.
- This was the Hoppers' fourth walk-off victory of the season, with game-winning hits from Jack Herman, Matt Gorski and now Yoyner Fajardo twice.
- Second baseman Fajardo started the day on the bench but pinch-hit in the eighth inning and went 2-for-3. He has hit safely in 17 of 21 games played, with nine multi-hit games. Fajardo is 27-for-79 and his .342 batting average would lead the Sally League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
- Endy Rodriguez has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games. The switch-hitting Rodgriguez batted .296 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 21 games in May. He's 23-for-72 (.319) since moving into the No. 3 slot in Greensboro's batting order. ... Rodriguez started at catcher Thursday. The versatile 21-year-old is rated by MLB Pipeline as Pittsburgh's No. 7 prospect, and he has played four positions ― catcher, first base, second base and left field ― this season.
- First baseman Jacob Gonzalez went 2-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI double Thursday. He has been one of the South Atlantic League's best players since his promotion from Class-A Bradenton on May 10. He has hit safely in 15 of 18 games since then, with eight multi-hit games. Gonzalez is 26-for-68 (.382) with four home runs and 11 RBIs.
- Leadoff hitter Hudson Head, a 21-year-old outfielder rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 22 prospect in Pittsburgh's farm system, went 1-for-6 with an RBI. Head has hits in 16 of his last 18 games. He has reached base in 25 of his last 28 games.
In his career at the News & Record, journalist Jeff Mills won 10 national and 12 state writing awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, the Society for Features Journalism, and the N.C. Press Association.