Martinsville Mustangs manager Matt Duffy didn’t want to use Adam Pendleton Wednesday night against the Columbia Blowfish, but it’s a good thing he did.
Pendleton came up huge in the 10th inning, propelling the Mustangs to a 9-8 win at Hooker Field.
The catcher threw out the Blowfish’s first base runner of the 10th inning to help stymie Columbia’s offense. And after a scoreless top half of the inning, Pendleton led off the bottom half with a double to left field.
He reached third base on a wild pitch, and then did the same on another wild pitch to score, just barely beating the throw back to the plate.
“With Pendleton’s speed, I knew he had it all the way,” Duffy joked. “It scared me a little bit, but you’ve got to take a chance. Pendleton knew we were out of arms. I mean, the next guy to throw was (Karsten) Strieby.”
Luckily for Duffy, he didn’t have to pitch his first baseman, though it looked like things were headed that way.
The Mustangs’ bullpen struggled all night to finish up a strong start from Chris Branigan, who went 5 1/3 and surrendered two runs on two hits.
All in all, the Martinsville relievers walked four batters and hit six with pitches. Three of those were from Steven Ball, who Duffy said pitched much longer than he intended out of need.
“These kids gave an extra effort tonight; the gas tank was empty with Ball,” Duffy said. “I know it was, but he wanted to go back out for that inning and see if he could save the bullpen for tomorrow.”
Martinsville (16-27, 7-8 second half) went through four relief pitchers. Ball was the third. Ryan Ward (1-0) finished things up on the mound for Martinsville and picked up the win while Columbia’s Chase Rihtarchik (2-3) picked up the loss.
Although Pendleton’s run sealed the deal, Zack Hagaman’s timely hit in the sixth inning got everything started for Martinsville and played a huge role in the win.
Hit-and-runs aren’t typically executed much better than Hagaman’s was Wednesday night. And the Mustangs benefited from it, turning in a six-run sixth inning.
With two outs on the board and the Mustangs trailing 3-2, Hagaman needed to avoid the third out. And in any other situation, that’s exactly what Hagaman would have hit into.
“I tried to execute the hit-and-run, and I got it down perfect,” Hagaman said. “You practice in batting practice to hit hit-and-runs into the opposite field hole. I was just able to hit it there.”
The right fielder’s high-bouncing grounder was hit right where the shortstop was standing — was. The hit-and-run had Columbia (24-16, 7-5) shortstop Michael Wilson moving left to cover second base and out of position to make the play.
The hit tied the game, scoring Strieby from third base, and paved the way for four more Mustang runners to score.
Hagaman gave the Mustangs a strong performance from the bottom of the lineup, going 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.
Ian Harvey, who led off the game with a hit and scored a run for the Mustangs in the first inning, followed Hagaman with a deep double off the left-center field wall. If it was three feet higher, it would have cleared the fence. Even off the wall, though, Harvey knocked in two runs.
Aaron Stubblefield walked after Harvey’s shot, then Jake Stone hit a two-run double over the center fielder’s head to put the Mustangs up 7-3.
Harvey finished the game 3-for-6 with three RBIs and two runs.
“All-Star playing like an All-Star, that’s what he is,” Duffy said. “He gives you everything. He’s clutch.”
The bullpen woes started in the fifth inning for Martinsville when Dylan Wolchik’s first pitch was a three-run homer to left field by Columbia first baseman Gabriel Laweree.
Martinsville’s six-run sixth inning reclaimed the lead, only for the bullpen squandered it soon after.
Martinsville reliever Zachary Grossfield got into some trouble in the eighth inning, where he gave up two hits, walked a batter and hit another for three runs. Ball cleaned up the eighth with the bases loaded to hold the Martinsville lead at 7-6, not without the help of a ranging catch in deep left-center field by Harvey.
“I didn’t really take a good route; banana’d it pretty bad, but I knew I was going to catch it the whole way,” Harvey said. “If it was going to burn me, I was going to at least dive for it.”
Catcher Daniel Irving scored an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to give Martinsville a 8-6 lead, but Ball lost the lead when he surrendered a two-run homer off the scoreboard to pinch-hitter Luke Dunlap in the ninth inning. “It was obviously, demoralizing, but I felt like we were still in it,” Harvey said. “We had that six-run inning, so our offense was pretty good today. I felt confident.”
Seemed that way, not just for Harvey, but for the rest of the Mustangs’ offense. It certainly came through once again in the 10th inning.