After Neftali Rosario was walked intentionally to load the bases and set-up a potential game-ending double play, Taylor Davis drilled a one-out two-run game-winning walk-off single on a 2-2 pitch past a a diving 3rd baseman into LF to score Marco Hernandez from 3rd base with the tying run and Gioskar Amaya from 2nd base with the winning run, as the AZL Cubs rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 9th to edge the AZL Rangers 7-6 in Arizona League action at Fitch Park Field #3 in Mesa this morning.
The Cubs led 5-1 through three innings, plating two runs in the bottom of the 2nd on a Marco Hernandez two-run triple into the RF corner following back-to-back two-out singles by Trey Martin and Kyung-Min Na, and then three more in the bottom of the 3rd on a Taylor Davis RBI GO, a Ryan Cuneo RBI double, and a Kyung-Min Na RBI single.
Two rehabbin' Iowa Cubs were in the AZL Cubs lineup today, as Marquez Smith (on the I-Cubs 7-day DL since 6/26 with a hand injury) played 2B and hit 3rd, and Welington Castillo (on the Iowa DL since 7/28 with a hamstring injury) was the catcher and hit clean-up. Both of the I-Cubs played seven innings, with mixed resuits.
W. Castillo doubled twice (one a near-HR slammed off the right-centerfield fence, and the other a near-HR crushed off the top of the LF fence), and looked fully mobile behind the plate. (And none of the Ranger baserunners dared to run against him, either). This will be Castillo's only rehab game action, as he will be rejoining the Iowa Cubs in Tacoma on Friday.
Marquez Smith looked fine right up until the very end (hitting the ball hard twice), before tweaking a groin or a quad while running out a pop-fly in the bottom of the 7th in what was supposed to be his final AB. Since he is at Fitch Park rehabbing a hand injury, and since a quad or groin strain is a completely different problem, Smith could very possibly be spending considerable more time on the DL while dealing with this new medical issue.
LHP Hunter Ackerman (Cubs 2010 4th round draft pick out of Louisburg JC) got the start for the AZL Cubs today, and threw four innings (61 pitches - 38 strikes), allowing two runs (both earned) on four hits, while walking two, and striking out two. The lefty got a ton of ground balls (10/0 GO/FO including two 6-4-3 DP) with his high-80's two-seamer, and a few swings & misses with his plus-curve, although he also bounced several in front of the plate.
Down 5-1, the Rangers rallied for five runs in the top of the 7th off Cubs RHP Felix Pena, who had breezed through his first two innings of relief (six-up & six-down on only 17 pitches). But Pena could only get one out in the 7th, allowing a two-run HR to Rangers DH Clark Murphy, and then three more runs on three hits and a HBP after that (with LHRP Andrew McKirahan allowing two inherited runners to score on a WP and an RBI single).
Up 6-5, the Rangers were in a good position to add some insurance in the top of the 9th, as Cubs reliever Santo Rodriguez surrendered a bunt single and a double with no outs. But (with the Cubs playing a drawn-in infield to cut down a potential score), Rodriguez induced a weak grounder to 1st (3-U) for the first out (with both runners holding their respective base), and then struck out the last two hitters of the inning (one looking and one swinging) to end the threat.
The Cubs could not have asked for a better set-up coming into the bottom of the 9th, trailing by only one run with hot-hitting Marco Hernandez and Gioskar Amaya due up 1-2. And the two young infielders did not disappoint, either, as Hernandez came back from 0-2 to work a ten-pitch walk, before Amaya (with the Ranger infield expecting a bunt) drilled a single through the 5.5 hole into LF to advance Hernandez to 2nd. Gregori Gonzalez then beat the wheel-play and laid down a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd with one out.
Neftali Rosario was walked intentionally to load the bases and set-up a potential game-ending DP, but Taylor Davis (possibly the slowest runner in professional baseball) upset the Ranger plan, working the count to 2-2 before hammering the game-winning hit to the left of the third-baseman and into LF. Hernandez scored the tying run easily from 3rd, and with AZL Cub manager Juan Cabreja enthusiastically waiving him around third, Amaya scored the winning run from 2nd, sliding home just ahead of the left-fielder's throw in a cloud of dust as Hernandez directed Amaya (with hand signals) to slide to the outside of the plate and touch the plate with his left hand.
With a single and a two-run triple today, Hernandez extended his hitting streak to 16 games, and improved his "slash line" to 358/397/509. And with two walks and a single, Amaya improved his "slash line" to 366/408/483. Hernandez is now 10th in the AZL in BA, second in RBI, tied for 3rd in doubles, and tied for 6th in triples, and Amaya is 4th in the AZL in BA and is tied for 3rd in triples.
By rallying to edge the AZL West-leading Rangers, the AZL Cubs remain five games behind the AZL Giants in the AZL East, but two games ahead of the AZL Reds for the AZL Wild Card lead, with 15 games left to play. The three division winners and a Wild Card team (the second-place AZL team with best record) will qualify for the AZL playoffs.
And if you think winning doesn't matter in the minor leagues, you didn't see the AZL Cubs mob Taylor Davis after his game-winning hit.