Down to last strike, Dragons win on back-to-back wild pitches

When Great Lakes sent its two relievers to the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night, the Day Air Ballpark DJ should have played “Wild Thing.”

But who knew the Loons’ two best relievers with a combined 11 saves would combine to allow three rally-starting hits and throw four wild pitches? The last two wild ones – on consecutive pitches – allowed Carlos Jorge to score the tying run and Leo Balcazar the winning run for a 4-3 Dragons victory, their biggest walk-off rally in almost three years to the day.

“That was amazing to be a part of this,” Jorge said. “That means a lot to me.”

The wild pitches will be indelible memories for the fans who stayed and a reminder of why it can be a bad idea to leave a baseball game early. And the chain of events, the anatomy of the comeback, that put the Dragons in position to win, were moments joyously shared among teammates and the remaining crowd.

Kelvin Ramirez, a 6-foot-4 right-hander with a 2.30 ERA and four saves, couldn’t shut down the Dragons in the ninth. Hector Rodriguez singled to center and moved to second on a balk. Then Jay Allen II singled to left on an 0-2 pitch to send Rodriguez to third.

Then it got wild.

As Allen stole second, Ramirez threw a wild pitch and Rodriguez scored to cut the Loons’ lead to 3-1. Then Cam Collier lined a single to left-center to score Allen and it was 3-2. Ethan O’Donnell replaced Collier as a pinch runner.

Sal Stewart gave the crowd a brief thrill with a long fly ball that they thought might be a walk-off homer. But it was caught at the edge of the warning track for the first out. Enter Lucas Wepf, the Loons’ 6-5, 230-pound right-hander with seven saves and a 1.61 ERA.

On the first pitch to Jorge, O’Donnell stole second base. Then on a 2-2 count Jorge went to third on Wepf’s first wild pitch. Jorge walked.

“One of the things that’s going to get overlooked is Carlos Jorge taking that walk,” Harrison said. “He was fooled early. He chased out of the zone, and then he slowed himself down.”

With Jorge trying to steal second, Balcazar grounded back to Wepf. O’Donnell got caught in a rundown but he extended it long enough for Jorge to get to third and Balcazar to second.

With two outs, Wepf’s job was to get Logan Tanner out and earn the save. But wildness reigned.

Tanner swung and missed at a 97 mph fastball on the first pitch. He took a 98 mph fastball for ball one. He swung and missed at an 89 mph cutter and was down to his last strike.

The next pitch was 99 mph, high and outside and went to the backstop. Jorge scored easily to tie the score. The next pitch, a 91 mph splitter, bounced off catcher Nelson Quiroz toward first base at the edge of the circle. Wepf didn’t display the same kind of speed he does with his fastball in covering the plate. Quiroz tossed the ball to Wepf, but the hurried, swipe tag was late. And, for good measure, the ball flew out of his glove as Balcazar was winning the game.

“I was just trying to be really aggressive,” Balcazar said. “It was really close.”

When Balcazar got to third, Dragons manager Vince Harrison Jr. didn’t miss a teachable moment and told Balcazar he should have let a pitch go so Jorge could steal second. Then he told Balcazar to be aggressive.

“The bottom line is you’re here and now you get to make up for it,” Harrison Jr. said. “We’ve seen this guy, we know he’s going to throw that splitty and bounce it. If you see it, just go. Don’t hesitate. Because the way the game’s played, that was our momentum. So we were just going to be a little more aggressive than normal. It just worked out for us.”

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