Bottom of the Ninth, Trailing 3-1
April 21, 2009, Coastal Carolina at Clemson
It's the bottom of the ninth inning with the home team facing their last chance to make up the two run deficit the visitors put up in the eighth. It has been a close game with both teams allowing scoring opportunities to pass without issue. The teams are evenly matched, with the home team ranked 20th and the visitors ranked 19th in the same national poll.
The starting pitchers did well. The home team's right hander Graham Stoneburner gave up one unearned run on five hits with five strikeouts in six innings. Hessler had done as well for the visitors, allowing only one run, also unearned, on two hits in five and a third innings. In relief, the visitors' lefty Rein kept the home crowd quiet by allowing only two hits and no further damage through the eighth. Ryan Hinson came in and was doing his job well for the home team, retiring the first five he faced, but then gave up a single followed by a homer to give the visitors a two run lead after eight innings.
In the top of the ninth, Clint McKinney came in for the home boys. The sidewinder righty struck out the side, allowing one walk, to get his teammates their last chance. But the visitors are bringing in McCully, their right handed closer, and look at the numbers that pitcher has put up this season: a 1.02 ERA, with three wins, eight saves and 34 strikeouts in nineteen relief appearances! The fair weather fans in the crowd have given up and left the faithful few to sit with waning hope.
First up is left fielder Wilson Boyd, hitting fifth in the line-up. The junior left hand batter has been hitting about .250 all season, but he is not having his best outing tonight, batting 0 for 4 so far, and failing to get the bunt down on a suicide squeeze in the sixth inning, leaving Ben Paulson a dead duck half way between third and home. Wilson also made the error that allowed the first opposing run to score in the top of the sixth. Boyd quickly flies out to center field on a 1-2 count. One out.
Next up is righty Brad Miller, the freshman shortstop. Brad is hitting .270 for the season and is 1 for 3 tonight. After looking at strike one, he lets two balls go by, fouls off strike two and looks at two more balls, earning a walk. One out with a runner on first. Batting in the seven slot is senior third baseman Matt Sanders. The right handed batter is having a good season, hitting .340. Sanders swings at the first pitch and gets a solid single to left field. After a brief consultation, Jason Stoltz takes Sanders' place at first as a pinch runner to gain a little speed on the bases. Runners at first and second, still one out.
Next in the line-up is Phil Pohl. The freshman catcher has been a defensive hero so far in this game. In the third inning he guarded the plate from a runner trying to score from second on a single to center field. The runner got there before the ball, but he bounced off Pohl like he'd hit a brick wall. Phil made the catch and tagged him out. Then, in the fifth, after a lead off triple and one out, Pohl again saved a run when the batter laid down a squeeze bunt back to the pitcher. Stoneburner fielded it cleanly and flipped it back to the waiting catcher for the out at the plate. And in the sixth inning, after Boyd dropped a fly ball in left to allow a run in, Pohl threw out another runner trying to steal third base, thus holding the damage to one run. But Phil is batting under .200, bats right handed, and does not have great speed. The situation is critical, so Coach Leggett decides to put Chris Epps in as a pinch hitter.
Epps is a utility outfielder in his sophomore season. He's only hitting .211, but he bats from the left side, is quick as lightning, and he has been showing great plate discipline lately as a pinch hitter, regularly drawing walks. Chris quickly gets a three ball count and watches strike one. After fouling off strike two, he fights off two more strikes with well placed fouls, then it's ball four. It's a great at-bat for Epps and now the bases are loaded.
Batting ninth is Addison Johnson, a redshirt sophomore center fielder who sat out all last year with a wrist injury, then pulled a hamstring in March and is only now getting his speed back. AJ is a great center fielder, but has been really struggling at the plate all season, hitting a paltry .225 from the left side. Johnson strikes out swinging on four pitches. So now the bases are loaded with two outs.
Sophomore Jeff Schaus platoons in the outfield with Boyd,
but is the designated hitter tonight. This is only his second game starting in the lead off spot, where no one has seemed to settle in and get the job done this season. Jeff has been batting right around .300, with six home runs on the season. Today he is hitless in four attempts, but reached on an error and scored his team's only run so far in the third inning. When he steps into the left hand batter's box the only thing he is thinking about is a fastball. And here it comes. The first pitch. Big, fat, juicy, looking as big as a grapefruit coming right into his wheelhouse. He swings.
There is not much in baseball that can compare with a walk off grand slam home run. The ball flew high and long and deep over the right field fence. The remaining fans leapt and traded high fives and hugged with joy. The entire team met Jeff Schaus at the plate as he completed his circuit of the bases. And for a brief moment, all was right with the world.