Winning Again in Walk-Off Fashion
Fans at Wolff Stadium always seem to pick up the intensity when the Missions wear the colorful uniforms of their alter egos -- the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio.
It's almost as if a mini-fiesta breaks out as soon as the team takes the field and the cold beverages start to flow.
The visiting Memphis Redbirds tried to spoil the party on Thursday night, but the Tyler Saladino-led Chanclas kept the festivities going with yet another ninth-inning rally to secure a 4-3 victory.
Saladino sent the crowd of 4,623 into a tizzy with a two-out, two-run double to clinch the win in the opener of a five-game series.
After the Chanclas/Missions won in walk-off fashion for the fifth time this season, manager Rick Sweet explained in historical terms why it's become so hard for opposing teams to get the 27th out in close games against his team.
"We have been known for this for the last two or three years," said Sweet, who has managed the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A squad for six seasons, including the last four at Colorado Springs. "If you came to our town, hey, (out No.) 27 was tough to get."
The Missions won in the bottom of the ninth twice previously against Memphis, on April 9 and 10, in the first two home games of their first season in the Pacific Coast League.
In both games, Mauricio Dubon picked up the game-winning hit in 6-5 victories.
Twice within the past two weeks, Jake Hager produced the game-winners at Wolff, once on May 5 in a 10-9 victory over the Round Rock Express and again on May 7 in a 1-0 decision in 10 innings against the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
This time it was Saladino, who victimized former Missions pitcher Tommy Layne.
Layne entered the game for the Redbirds in the bottom off the ninth, trying to protect a 3-2 lead, but he couldn't close the door.
A walk, a pinch-hit single by Hager, and another walk loaded the bases and set the table for Saladino, who came to the plate and immediately got behind in the count, 0-2.
The most curious play of the night started to unfold on the next pitch when Layne threw a ball in the dirt that bounced up and hit Saladino in the leg.
Home plate umpire JJ January didn't see it that way.
Even though replay showed the ball bouncing and hitting Saladino's lower leg, which should have forced in a game-tying run, January called it a ball.
It was a call that created a pause in the action as both Saladino and Sweet, coming on to the field, tried to get an explanation.
"I asked all kinds of things," Saladino said. "I asked if he could ask for help (from an umpire in the field). I asked why he didn't think it hit me. It did hit me. He said it didn't. I told him, 'It really did.' But he saw it differently."
The Chanclas counted several players as standouts against the Redbirds. First of all, Nate Orf homered for the fifth time this year in the bottom of the second for a 1-0 lead.
After the Redbirds answered with solo homers by Tyler O'Neill and Adolis Garcia to take a 3-2 advantage in the sixth, Missions relievers Alex Wilson and Jay Jackson shut out the visitors the rest of the way.
Wilson worked the seventh and eighth innings and Jackson the ninth. After that, the Missions went to work in their last at bat with typical flair.
David Freitas drew a one-out walk. Hager, pinch hitting, flared a single into left field, and then Dubon walked on eight pitches to load the bases.
Saladino, getting a good look at Layne's repertoire from the on-deck circle because of all the pitches thrown to Dubon, answered with the game-winning hit.
"We just got a team of grinders," Saladino said. "We all play for the same reason. We play good baseball. We try not to give anything away or take anything for granted. We're just a good group of grinders."
As a team, the Missions rank third to last in the PCL with a .248 batting average. But after their latest victory, they're 36 of 107 for a .336 average in the ninth inning.
Incidentally, they're also 5-1 as the Flying Chanclas.
"It's a fun night to play," Orf said. "The fans are totally into it. I think we all look forward to (Chanclas nights on) Thursdays. The fans are into it, and hopefully, we keep winning."
Orf also applauded "clutch performances" from his teammates in tight spots late in games.
"Whether it's pinch hits like Hager had tonight (or) the at bat by Dubon -- Saladino had one of the more mature at bats I've seen in awhile to walk us off -- it's always fun to see something magical like that," Orf said.
American Southern Division - Round Rock 25-14, San Antonio 23-17, New Orleans 21-20, Oklahoma City 13-25.
American Northern Division - Iowa 25-16, Memphis 21-19, Omaha 18-22, Nashville 13-26.
After being called up to the major leagues on Tuesday, former Missions batting star Keston Hiura is 2 for 12 in three games with the Milwaukee Brewers, all on the road against the Phillies.
He was 2 for 3 in his first game, but he's been 0-for-9 since then, including 0-for-5 with four strikeouts on Thursday.
Hiura's spot on the Brewers' roster may not be permanent, as the Brewers brought him up to play in place of infielder Travis Shaw, who is on the 10-day injured list.
Nottingham in the show
Playing in the big leagues for the second year in a row, catcher Jacob Nottingham came off the bench for the Brewers in the ninth inning of an 11-3 victory against the Phillies on Thursday afternoon.
Milwaukee called up Nottingham from the Missions after Brewers' backup catcher Manny Pina went on the injured list.
Pitching staff bolstered
Burch Smith and Aaron Wilkerson have re-joined the Missions. The two were in the Missions' opening-week starting rotation and helped the team get off to a fast start, but both later were called up to the Brewers.
Smith on Thursday was optioned back to the Missions after the San Antonio native worked three games in relief for the parent club.
Wilkerson, a Fort Worth native, has pitched twice for the Missions since returning on May 7 from Milwaukee on a rehabilitation assignment.
He was officially optioned back to the Triple-A club on Monday.
The duo's return is good news for the Missions, as Smith has produced a 3-1 record a 1.37 earned run average in five starts, while Wilkerson is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA in four starts.
The Missions plan to start Jimmy Nelson (on rehabilitation assignment) on Friday, Zack Brown on Saturday, Wilkerson on Sunday and Smith on Monday.
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