Springfield, MO – 3B Paul DeJong crushed the game-winning, walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 10th to power the Springfield Cardinals to the 6-5 win against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals before 3,960 fans at Hammons Field on Thursday night.
It marks the second walk-off hit of the year for DeJong, who struck with a game-winning two-run double in the bottom of the ninth on April 25, also against the Naturals.
The Naturals (16-16) cracked the scoreless tie with an opportunistic rally in the top of the second. After RHP Daniel Poncedeleon had retired the first two outs of the frame, he hit LF Carlos Garcia with a pitch to extend the inning. After Garcia swiped second, he went down to third on an infield single from CF Terrance Gore. With runners at the corners and two away, Poncedeleon struck out SS Ramon Torres. However, the put-away pitch bounced into the dirt and got by C Carson Kelly, with the wild pitch enabling Torres to reach base and Garcia the opportunity to race home from third, lifting Northwest Arkansas ahead, 1-0.
The Naturals added to the advantage in the top of the third. 1B Ryan O’Hearn led off with a walk, followed by a single from 2B Orlando Calixte. 3B Mauricio Ramos then grounded an RBI single just inside the first base line, plating O’Hearn and moving Calixte to third. C Zane Evans then lined an RBI sacrifice fly to right field, bringing in Calixte for the 3-0 lead.
Poncedeleon settled in and blanked the Naturals through his final three frames, keeping them to just the three runs through his six innings. However, Naturals RHP Alec Mills countered with six scoreless innings, striking out eight with only three hits scattered.
The Cardinals (18-15), though, broke through against the Northwest Arkansas bullpen, getting on the board in the bottom of the seventh. With RHP Yender Caramo on the mound, 1B Luke Voit led off with a solo blast to right field, his sixth homer of the year, slicing the Cardinals deficit to 3-1. With the long-ball, Voit extended his current hitting streak to 10 games.
Springfield then rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth to seize the lead. DH Chris Jacobs started the stanza with his second single of the night, before giving way to pinch-running DH C.J. McElroy, Jr. SS Alex Mejia promptly followed with a single of his own, putting two on with no outs for CF Harrison Bader. Bader came through with an RBI double to right-center field, extending his hitting streak to 14 games and bringing in McElroy, Jr. to make it just a one-run game. The Naturals intentionally walked rehabbing St. Louis Cardinals CF Tommy Pham, loading the bases with no outs for 2B Bruce Caldwell. Caldwell battled out an RBI walk, forcing McElroy, Jr. home to tie it at 3-3. With the bases remaining loaded, Voit then skied an RBI sacrifice fly to right field, enabling Bader to tag and score the go-ahead run, 4-3.
RHP John Brebbia took over to start the top of the ninth, but the Naturals refused to go down without a fight. DH Frank Schwindel and LF Carlos Garcia struck with back-to-back solo home runs to start the inning, catapulting the Naturals back in front, 5-4.
However, Springfield countered with yet another comeback in the bottom of the ninth. Facing RHP Kevin McCarthy (L, 2-1), C Carson Kelly led off the frame with a single, before moving to second base on a groundout. Mejia then delivered the game-tying RBI double to right-center field, bringing in Kelly to make it 5-5 and force extra innings.
RHP Kurt Heyer (W, 1-2) dealt a 1-2-3 top of the 10th, before the Cardinals ended it in the bottom of the 10th. McCarthy struck out the first two batters that he faced, but then DeJong crushed the game-winning solo home run to right-center field, propelling the Cardinals to the 6-5 walk-off win.