Delivering in the Clutch Again
For the second time in three days, the Missions rushed to the infield to congratulate Jake Hager for a walk-off hit that capped another dramatic victory.
On Sunday, Hager delivered with a ninth-inning single to beat the Round Rock Express.
On Tuesday night, he did it again, this time in the 10th inning, as he smashed an infield hit to score Cory Spangenberg from third in a 1-0 victory over the New Orleans Baby Cakes in front of 4,099 fans at Wolff Stadium.
"Those are the opportunities you live for," Hager said. "You want to step up and be the guy and be the hero. I love being in that position."
The Missions had several players emerge late in their first extra-innings game of the year and in their first game ever against the Baby Cakes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
Relievers Jon Olczak, Tristan Archer, Jacob Barnes and Alex Wilson combined for three-hit shutout relief over the final five innings.
Defensively, Nate Orf made one of the better plays of the season in the outfield when he robbed Harold Ramirez of an extra-base hit in the ninth.
In the 10th, Spangenberg, playing first base, executed a back-handed scoop on a one-hop, relay throw from shortstop Mauricio Dubon, completing a double play that squelched a two-on, one-out threat.
Finally, in the bottom half, the Missions constructed, piece by piece, the elements of their 18th victory of the season and their third in five games on the homestand.
By rule, they started with a runner at second base, which was Spangenberg. Next, Spangenberg moved up on a bunt single by Orf.
When Jacob Nottingham walked, it loaded the bases for Hager, who told reporters later that he always tries to be patient in that situation.
"I try to get a pitch I can drive," he said. "I mean, he's going to throw his best stuff. You just try to get a pitch in a location that you can do damage on."
On a 1-1 count, New Orleans reliever R.J. Alvarez fired a slider that Hager returned with a smash back to the mound. Subsequently, it hit off the pitcher's lower leg and caromed toward first base.
By the time first baseman Yadier Rivera picked it up, he had no play, as Spangenberg had already crossed home plate for the only run of the game.
Later, as reporters filed into the Missions' clubhouse, one of them asked manager Rick Sweet facetiously if he had planned on having Hager at bat when the chips were on the line.
"You can't say I planned that," Sweet said. "But you know what? He's been playing very good baseball. He's a big part of our team."
Hager, batting only .234, doesn't play every day. He's been in 25 of the team's 32 games, sometimes coming off the bench as he did against New Orleans as a sixth-inning replacement at third base.
But when he wields a bat late in a game, good things usually happen for the Missions.
In the season opener, the 26-year-old from Nevada contributed to the team's first victory in the Pacific Coast League when he delivered a go-ahead, two-run triple in the top of the ninth inning as a pinch hitter.
On Sunday night, his bases-loaded single scored the winning run for the Missions in a 10-9 victory over the Express.
"Jake works really hard," said Missions outfielder Corey Ray, who returned to the lineup for the first time in three weeks. "He punches the clock every single day. He does what he needs to do to prepare. It's no surprise to us that he can play."
Aaron Wilkerson started on the mound for the Missions in a rehabilitation start. He pitched five shutout innings, giving up three hits.
Coming off a foot injury that he suffered with the parent-club Milwaukee Brewers, he looked sharp in throwing 80 pitches, 53 of them for strikes.
American Southern Division - Round Rock 18-13, San Antonio 18-14, New Orleans, 17-15, Oklahoma City 10-21.
The Missions have started a stretch of eight straight games against the Baby Cakes. They'll play again on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at Wolff, followed by four more at New Orleans starting Saturday.
Help on the way
Manager Rick Sweet said reliever Taylor Williams will be active for Wednesday's game against New Orleans. He added that Jay Jackson also could be available if he clears waivers. Sweet said outfielder Troy Stokes, Jr., on the injured list, could be back in a few days.
Missions outfielder and leadoff hitter Corey Ray was back in the lineup Tuesday after returning home to Arizona over the weekend for the birth of his son.
Ray, the No. 2 prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers' minor-league system, hit the ball hard twice and went 1-for-4 in his return.
It's been a hectic few days for Ray, the Brewers' 2016 first-round draft pick out of Louisville, who was ready to return to the lineup last Friday after two weeks on the injured list, only to learn that his wife was in labor.
"I was about to put my uniform on and head outside and play the game, and my mother-in-law called and told me my wife's water had broken," he said. "So, I had to try to get on the plane."
Casey Donte Ray (8 pounds, 8 ounces) was born Saturday morning.
Ray has had a tough start to his season after suffering a broken finger on his right (glove hand) in spring training.
He seemed more comfortable at the plate Tuesday night than he did earlier in the season.
"I've got two hands now," Ray said. "I mean, that's the bottom line. Trying to hit with two hands is hard. Trying to hit with one hand is almost impossible.
"I'm trying to get some strength back in my right hand. I think it's better. No structural damage. I can go out there and I can play my game."
Ray said he broke the middle finger on his right hand while sliding in spring training.
"I didn't say anything because I wanted to play and could play," he said. "Then I dove in a game at Nashville and I couldn't do it anymore."
On the injured list since April 17, Ray is batting .176. He's played in 13 games.
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