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Walk it off! Cowles completes comeback in rollercoaster game

(Mark LoMoglio)
April 16, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. – No, you read the box score correctly, seven errors… and the Tarpons managed to emerge victorious over the Dunedin Blue Jays, 8-7. Don’t believe me? Ask the Tampa faithful who left George M. Steinbrenner Field with a little less hair and much shorter fingernails. Benjamin Cowles saved

TAMPA, Fla. – No, you read the box score correctly, seven errors… and the Tarpons managed to emerge victorious over the Dunedin Blue Jays, 8-7. Don’t believe me? Ask the Tampa faithful who left George M. Steinbrenner Field with a little less hair and much shorter fingernails. Benjamin Cowles saved the day, completing the Tarpons’ comeback in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off base hit to left field. The victory was stunning – as the errors mounted, a comeback seemed less and less likely. The late, great Yogi Berra said it best, “it ain’t over til it’s over” … but please excuse me as I rewrite this recap and erase all the jokes I had prepared about the Easter Bunny hiding gloves.

RHP Josue Panacual received the starting nod, and immediately got to work for the Tarpons. Panacual began the night by setting down both Dasan Brown and Estiven Machado on strikes. Damiano Palmegiani tagged him for a double that found the gap in left center, but no further damage was done, as Rainer Nunez grounded out to end the frame.

Alexander Vargas led off for the Tarpons and sent a missile over the head of right fielder Adriel Sotolongo. The ball took a hard bounce back off the fence, holding Vargas to a single. Jasson Dominguez moved him to second on a soft ground ball to third, and Vargas swiped third base for his second steal of the season. With a man in scoring position, Anthony Garcia drew a two out walk. Jays’ pitcher Michael Dominguez lost control of a pitch and Vargas scored on the misguided throw, giving the Tarpons an early 1-0 lead.

Panacual found himself in some trouble after retiring the first two batters in the top of the second. He beaned Angel Del Rosario with a fastball, and Del Rosario responded by stealing both second and third base. Jommer Hernandez drew a walk, as did Jose Rivas. With the bases loaded, Panacual got Brown to strike out swinging, and the Tarpons got out of the jam.

Madison Santos kept the offense going and blasted a double to deep left center, missing a home run by just a couple feet. Cowles popped out, and Santos stole third. Grant Richardson did his job, bringing in Santos on a SAC fly to left. Connor Cannon and Vargas roped back-to-back singles, and then things got a little crazy. On what would be a routine ground out for most players, Dominguez legged out an infield single on a slow roller to the right side of the infield. Del Rosario tried to make a play at first and did not notice Cannon on a clear mission to score. He turned on the jets and crossed the plate all the way from second base, increasing the margin to 3-0.

The Blue Jays began to mount a comeback with the help of some sloppy Tarpons’ defense. In the top of the third, Machado reached on a fielding error by Garcia at first base. Nunez would reach on a fielding error by third baseman Marcos Cabrera and would come around to score on an ill-advised throwing error by Cowles.

The wheels fell off for the Tarpons in the fourth, as they saw their lead quickly depleted. Hernandez singled on a ground ball to third, followed by Rivas taking a pitch to the hand. After a brief delay to check Rivas, Brown singled on a ground ball to center field. An errant throw by Dominguez landed in the Jays’ dugout, and just like that, the game was tied 3-3.

Manager Rachel Balkovec decided that would be the end for Panacual, who finished the night surrendering four runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks over the course of three plus innings. He struck out three batters on 63 total pitches, 35 of those for strikes.

Balkovec turned to RHP Trevor Holloway to settle things down, but the Jays’ were just getting started. Palmegiani drew a walk, and Nunez gave Dunedin their first lead of the night on an RBI single to Vargas at short. Another fielding blunder by Cabrera at third allowed Victor Mesia to reach safely, scoring Palmegiani. Sotolongo slapped an RBI single to right field which boosted the visiting team’s lead to 7-3.

RHP Danny Watson was handed the ball next to stop the bleeding and understood the assignment. He struck out five of the seven batters he faced to keep the Tarpons in the game, including striking out the side in the sixth.

Bottom sixth, looking for some life with a man on second and no outs, Cowles tripled past the diving Brown in center field, cutting the lead down to 7-4.

Watson kept the boat afloat in the seventh with another 1-2-3 inning, trusting the offense to steer the somewhat steadied ship in the following frame. Steer it, they did.

The Tarpons stormed back in the seventh with a vengeance. With Cannon occupying first thanks to a free pass, Vargas roped a double down the third base line for his third hit of the game. Cannon scored easily, and Vargas advanced to third on a wild throw to the plate. Dominguez kept the rally going by launching a double of his own to right, plating Vargas. Down one run, Gomez stepped up to the plate and delivered a ground ball single the opposite way. Dominguez showed off his impressive speed and beat out Sotolongo’s throw to the plate. Just like that, tied again – new ballgame.

Back to square one, Balkovec made the call to the pen and brought in RHP Jack Neely (1-0). Neely has been excellent for the Tarpons throughout the young season and continued to baffle hitters at the dish. The move certainly paid off; after walking Machado on a full count, he struck out the heart of the Jays’ order. Neely stayed on for the ninth, and promptly struck out the side. He finished the night tossing two scoreless innings, striking out six of the seven batters he faced.

Suddenly, the table was set for the Tarpons. Could they overcome SEVEN errors and send the Tampa faithful home happy? Garcia worked a walk off Jays’ pitcher Juan Nunez (0-1) but was quickly erased as Cabrera grounded into a double play the very next pitch. The game felt destined for extra innings, but Santos doubled to left to keep the Tarpons’ hopes alive. On a 2-0 pitch, Cowles played hero and laced a single right between the shortstop and third baseman, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Seven errors? No problem. After all, “it ain’t over til it’s over” right?

The Tarpons will face off for the final game of their six-game set against Dunedin on Sunday, April 17th, with RHP Chandler Champlain slated to make the start.