Needing a win to stay alive, the Brownsville Cutters exploded and excited the home crowd…until a stunning late implosion. Could they survive and send the series back to Yuma?
Explode, the Cutters did. Facing Yuma ace Chris Sale, Javier Baez got things started with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the 1st. After a single and a pair of strikeouts, Jedd Gyorko got into the act with a two-run shot for a 3-0 Brownsville lead.
After Yuma plated a run on a Corey Seager double down the line in the 3rd, the hosts went back to work. With Aaron Judge aboard after an infield single, Gyorko launched his second two-run blast. Next up was Michael Taylor, who also pulled the ball into the left field bleachers. In the span of three turns at bat, Brownsville had scored six runs against the southpaw Sale, and the third would be his last inning of work.
Yu Darvish, on the mound for the Cutters, hadn’t been too successful keeping the Firebirds off the bases in the first three innings, and his issues spilled over into the 4th. Brandon Crawford, who had lasered an opposite-field double with one out, scored easily on an Ian Kinsler ground ball up the middle. With two out, pinch hitter extraordinaire Brian Dozier was called upon, taking Sale’s place. Proving the fables true, Dozier put on a massive upper cut on a 1-1 Darvish slider. The soaring drive seemingly didn’t come back to earth (in reality, it landed at the top of the Cockerton Field bleachers). When he finished his trot, Yuma had pulled within two.
With the ballgame close, Baez got back to work in the bottom of the 4th. Behind in the count at 0-2, Baez shortened up and lined a single to center. He then stole second base and took third on a deep fly out from Manny Machado. A Judge double presented an easy opportunity for Baez to waltz home, and the lead was extended to 7-4.
From there, it was almost all Brownsville. Two runs scored off Gerrit Cole in the fifth, both coming on a bases-loaded single from Baez. Cole, relegated to a mop-up role for the playoffs, continued to eat innings and save the bullpen for an impending Game 5…but in the process he allowed a pair to cross in the Cutter 6th, the final of those on a single by the opposing RELIEF pitcher, Cam Bedrosian.
Fast forward to the top of the 9th. Brownsville, cruising with an 11-4 lead, tossed Fernando Salas on the mound. Surely the seasoned reliever could handle a seven-run advantage, right?
In what must have seemed a nightmare for the fans in attendance, Salas couldn’t find the plate after inducing an Anthony Rendon groundout to open the frame. Crawford got ahead in the count before singling. Kinsler walked on four pitches, as did pinch-hitter Nomar Mazara. Ben Zobrist grabbed a bat to hit for Cole, but he didn’t need it. A 3-1 offering skipped off the dirt, forcing in a run. Dexter Fowler fell behind 0-2, saw Tyler Flowers fail to stop a breaking ball for a run-scoring passed ball, then fouled off four pitches while taking three more balls for another free pass.
After all of that, the score was still 11-6. But with Joey Votto stepping up, and Seager and Mookie Betts behind him, Bruce Bochy had to be roused from his nap on the end of the bench. The bullpen heated up as Votto worked the count full before a seeing-eye single to center to plate an additional two Firebirds.
One out, two hits, four walks, six runs on 36 pitches? Yeah, that was it for Salas. Seager, representing the potential tying run, was the first to greet Will Harris. The youngster wasted no time in driving the ball up the middle to score Fowler. Betts? Just a first-pitch single down the left field line. Votto, across the plate. Seager, to third base. A huge advantage for the home team had crumpled in a matter of minutes, and just a few more hits would put their season on the brink. Remember, Brownsville needed a win to keep the series alive.
The next hitter was the only one who had made an out in the frame. Rendon, with the full force of his boisterous dugout behind him, was confident he would get the hit to tie the game – or take the lead. He went ahead, two balls and a strike, then swung all-out at a fastball!
But the ball slowed and dropped. It was a changeup. Rendon’s eyes bulged as the ball hit the bottom half of the bat and skidded right to Harris. The veteran spun and calmly delivered the ball to Gyorko covering second. Rendon’s speed put pressure on the play, but Gyorko was accurate to first for the final out as the Cutters fans gasped a collective exhale.
FINAL: BROWNSVILLE 11, YUMA 10
A game which appeared in hand since the early going turned into a nailbiter, but Brownsville prevailed against the battle-hardened Firebirds to send the series to a fifth and deciding game at Yuma, with the winner advancing to the BARB World Series.