“It got me right here in the elbow guard.”
Salazar pinch hit in the 9th with the bases loaded and the game tied, then wore one on his elbow guard to bring home the winning run.
Walk off hit by pitch just like they drew it up pic.twitter.com/Q9QmH5gEvW— AZ Desert Swarm (@azdesertswarm) February 20, 2017
“I didn’t feel it because Arizona does a really good job of hooking us up with protective stuff, so it hit me right in the elbow guard,” Salazar said straightly. “It didn’t hurt at all.”
Arizona entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 8-6. JJ Matijevic started things off with a two-strike single to center field.
“That was the magic moment of the game,” head coach Jay Johnson said afterwards.
Eastern Kentucky then decided to lift pitcher Alex Hamilton, who had thrown four shutout innings to that point after being roughed up on Friday.
Brian Mroz came in and walked Nick Quintana. Louis Boyd then dropped a bunt down, but the catcher tried to get Matijevic at third. The throw was late, which loaded the bases for the Wildcats.
“They were in a bunt defense, so JJ could get a big lead at second,” explained Johnson. “With the second baseman covering, that allowed him to get the jump to be safe.”
Alfonso Rivas came up and smacked a single to right, scoring two runs, and tying the game.
Baseball ties it up in the 9th pic.twitter.com/5ZqJ9IMqWt— AZ Desert Swarm (@azdesertswarm) February 20, 2017
Coach Johnson then went with Casey Bowman to pinch hit for Cameron Cannon. Bowman grounded out to second, advancing Rivas to second.
So now EKU had the option of intentionally walking the next guy to load the bases and create the force play at every base.
Salazar had been in the on-deck circle, but Johnson stuck with Ryan Haug so that Salazar could bat with the bases loaded.
“I was concerned with them walking the bases loaded, so we wanted to slot Salazar appropriately so he would be the one to get pitched to, and it him,” Johnson said. “So it worked out well.”
Haug did get walked, and then three pitches later, Salazar wore one and won the game for the Wildcats while pinch hitting for Mitchell Morimoto.
“Salazar’s gonna hit for you,” Johnson retold of what he said to Morimoto during an offensive timeout where the four of them met near the first base dugout. “Real enlightening conversation.”
“My mindset is to look for a pitch that I can drive to the outfield,” Salazar explained of coming up in that spot. “There was bases loaded, and a ground ball they’re gonna turn two because I’m not the fastest guy on the team, so just look for a ball that I can drive to the outfield and let the guy on third tag.”
But that didn’t need to happen.
“I saw a ball that was a little too much inside, so I just turned my shoulders and let me hit it.”
Before tying the game in the ninth, Rivas actually started this game as Arizona’s pitcher. There was no DH, just in case this moment came up.
“We put him as the pitcher/DH so he would be up in that spot against a right-handed pitcher, the closer,” Johnson explained.
“You’re always ready for that one opportunity you’re gonna get,” Rivas tacked on. “And luckily I got it in the ninth, and I executed.”
Rivas ended up being credited with allowing six runs on Monday as the pitcher, but they were all unearned. There were two errors early in the frame, which eventually chased Rivas after just 1 2⁄3 innings of work, surrendering four hits and not walking a batter.
“I need to be a better coach,” Johnson responded when asked what was going through his head at that point. “I actually thought he made good pitches, we just didn’t give him any help.”
“It was a little frustrating at first, just because we know we could do better on defense,” Rivas added. “But yeah, thank God we won.”
Arizona committed two more errors on the day, and allowed another unearned run in the sixth.
Cameron Ming pitched the final three innings for the Cats, finishing out a game for the second time in the series.
“We thought about starting him on Sunday if we didn’t have to use him on Saturday,” explained Johnson of Ming’s role. “We had to use him on Saturday, and he only threw 17 pitches or something like that (actually 19). We thought about starting him today (Monday), but we felt like the chance for him to impact the most games over the two weeks was to do what we’re doing with him right now.”
“You gotta have a good closer to be good,” Johnson continued. “I mean Bobby Dalbec and him made the season last year because we could finish out a game against Rice, or Nebraska, or Cal State Fullerton, and that team gained a lot of confidence from that, and Cameron allows this team to do that as well.”
Two comeback wins for a series sweep give this team confidence, but also allows for plenty to be worked on. Arizona takes Tuesday off, returns to practice on Wednesday, and then takes on McNeese State in a four-game series that starts Thursday.
McNeese beat Stony Brook, Rhode Island, and Missouri State this past weekend, and will play Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday before traveling to Tucson.