Blankenhorn's Walkoff Hit Lifts Blue Wahoos to Win
Spend enough time around baseball and some kind of oddity like this one may ensue.
With both teams in a bind with empty bullpens, plus the Blue Wahoos facing infielder Christian Donahue as emergency reliever for the second time in three games, Travis Blankenhorn laced a two-out, two-strike pitch in the 11th inning for a walkoff hit and Pensacola's 5-4 win against the Tennessee Smokies.
It also brought collective relief across Blue Wahoos Stadium. All three games in this series have gone into extra innings.
"I just couldn't wait for somebody to just hit a ball and let's win the game," said Blue Wahoos manager Ramon Borrego.
"I don't know how (Blankenhorn) hit it over that second baseman (against an infield shift), but we're going to take it. No more extras for us," said Blue Wahoos new reliever Tyler Palm, who pitched the 10th and 11th innings to pick up his first Double-A win.
The 6-foot-9 Palm was elevated Tuesday from the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels - the Minnesota Twins' Low-A affiliate.
If not for Blankenhorn's heroics, however, which delighted most of a sellout crowd of 5,038 -- save for the portion of Chicago Cubs fans rooting for their Double-A affiliate -- the Blue Wahoos (38-30) would have been in their own bind.
Borrego revealed afterward he was prepared to use infielder Joe Cronin to start the 12th inning, if needed. The previous two games, had strained both bullpens.
"It is really tough," Borrego said. "We were in basically the same situation (as Smokies). Our bullpen has been used a lot.. Palm was our last guy."
The Blue Wahoos got their prior walkoff win Wednesday against Donahue in a 7-6 win in 12 innings. Ben Rortvedt had the game-winner in that one, scoring Blankenhorn. The Smokies followed with a 4-3 win in 10 innings Thursday. "That was my first time seeing that... but things happen," Borrego said. "We are going to have three days off soon (beginning Monday with all-star break) and that will help a lot of arms."
Friday's game developed with both starting pitchers settled into a groove. The Smokies' Justin Steele (3.1 IP) and Michael Rucker, held the Blue Wahoos without a hit through five innings. Four batters reached on walks.
Meanwhile, Blue Wahoos starter Charlie Barnes survived a rough first inning when he allowed three runs. The Smokies (31-36) loaded the bases on a single, a hit batter and a walk. With one out, Ian Rice singled home a run. Jesse Hodges followed with a two run single.
But from that point, the Smokies did not score again until the 11th inning.
The Blue Wahoos rallied with two runs in the sixth. Blankenhorn led off with a double for the team's first hit. Jaylin Davis walked. Rortvedt singled sharply to center, loading the bases. With one out, Michael Davis hit an RBI single and Jimmy Kerrigan followed with a sacrifice fly to score the second run.
The Blue Wahoos tied the game in the ninth on Taylor Grzelakowski's one out single. Smokies reliever Craig Brooks prevented a walk-off win by striking out Randy Cesar and Tanner English.
Zack Weiss had been sensational in relief, pitching the eighth and ninth without allowing a hit and striking out three.
"He is a guy who has experience in the big leagues (while with Cincinnnati Reds) and he still has really good arm," Borrego said. "He has a plus (above average) slider... so he is really good to have a guy like that in the bullpen."
Palm entered in the 10th and worked out of two innings with a runner placed at second under the MILB extra-inning rule. The Smokies got their run on a throwing error in the 11th.
"I was in 'if needed,' (situation). When Zach got done in the ninth, I said, well, all right I am the only pitcher left, so hey it's me," Palm said. "It is an awesome feeling coming in here like this, beging kinda the new guy. Everybody is great here. It has been fun being with them."
In the bottom of the 11th with Donahue pitching, Jimmy Kerrigan tied the game with his one-out single to score Michael Davis. Kerrigan and Blankenhorn had two hits apiece in the game, among the six hits for the Blue Wahoos.
With one out, Randy Cesar walked, then Tanner English worked his way into a walk to load the bases and set up Blankenhorn.
"They are trained to hit pitches over 90-miles per hour consistently," Palm said. "And then you throw 57 (mph) in there (as Donahue was doing)....that is really hard to adjust. People don't understand how hard that it is to adjust."
Blankenhorn adjusted. The Blue Wahoos won.
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