The formula for how to rally in the late innings is incomplete. But to Dayton Dragons manager Bryan LaHair and managers everywhere, one ingredient must be present.
“They always fight to the end,” LaHair said.
On Thursday night, Austin Hendrick’s bullet was snagged at first base with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run loss. Otherwise, there would have been a celebration and maybe a Gatorade shower.
On Friday night, the Dragons came to bat in the sixth inning down 5-2. And the Dragons lived up to what LaHair says they always do because you never know when hard-hit balls will miss gloves and random breaks will come your way.
Instead of missing victory by a couple inches, the Dragons emerged with a 7-5 victory over West Michigan in a game of twists and turns that ended suddenly with a ground-ball double play with Jake Gozzo on the mound.
The Dragons (24-25) snapped a two-game losing streak that followed a six-game winning streak. And they did by coming back from at least three runs down for the third time this season. This rally came later than the others.
In the sixth, hot-hitting shortstop Edwin Arroyo doubled off the right-field wall, moved to third on a fly ball and scored on Austin Hendrick’s ground out to cut the Whitecaps’ lead to 5-3.
In the seventh, the Dragons hit the ball hard and had a little help on two balls that could have been caught for outs but turned into extra-base hits. Michael Trautwein opened with a double and Justice Thompson lofted one to deep left that Esney Chacon misplayed into a double. Trautwein scored to make the score 5-4.
After Blake Dunn struck out, Austin Callahan hit a hard line drive right at center fielder Roberto Campos. He charged the ball too far. When he realized his mistake all he could do was jump, but the ball sailed over his head to the wall for a triple. Thompson scored for a 5-5 tie.
With one out and the infield in, Arroyo was up again.
“You don’t think about where,” LaHair said. “You just try to hit the ball hard, preferably in the center of the field, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Arroyo followed that advice and hit a sharp single between second base and the second baseman to bring home Callahan with the go-ahead run. Arroyo used his speed again to steal second, go to third on a ground out to the third baseman and scored on Tyler Callihan’s single for the final run.
Arroyo, the top-rated prospect with the Dragons, was 3-for-4 with his second three-hit game of the series to raise his batting average to .219. He is 8 for 12 in the past three games with two doubles, three RBIs and two stolen bases.
Dragons starter Julian Aguiar entered the game 2-0 with the league’s lowest ERA at 1.60. But he allowed a three-run homer in the first inning to Justice Bigbie, his sixth this season. He went five innings and left trailing 4-2.
Myles Gayman (3-1) pitched two innings and allowed a solo homer to Jace Jung in the sixth.
Gozzo made some good pitches when he needed it to earn a two-inning save for No. 4 on the season. With two on and two out in the eighth, he struck out Izaac Pacheco. In the ninth, he got Dillon Paulson on strikes with consecutive changeups. Then Arroyo started the game-ending double play.
And the rally was complete.