One thing is clear already this summer, the Medford Rogues like making their games interesting.
Medford's collegiate wood-bat baseball games had been decided by two runs or less on seven occasions entering Tuesday's West Coast League doubleheader, but little could top what the Rogues accomplished against Wenatchee during an overcast day here at Harry & David Field.
Medford upped that nail-biting total to nine games on Tuesday, showing a flair for dramatics with a pair of walk-off winners in an improbable sweep of the defending WCL champions, 5-4 and 2-1.
A.J. Balta's seventh-inning single plated Quentin Urban to set off a celebration in the opener, but even that couldn't compare to the frenzy set afoot by Caleb Palensky in the nightcap as he broke up a no-hit bid and clinched the victory with his two-run home run over the left field wall.
Both games were scheduled for seven innings after the twin bill was deemed necessary thanks to Monday's rainout.
Wenatchee left-hander Trevor Lubking had the Rogues (8-12) handcuffed for the nightcap until Palensky let loose with his second homer of the summer. Lubking had one walk and one hit batter entering the seventh and never faced more than four batters in any inning — including the last one. After earning his seventh strikeout of the game, Lubking walked pinch-hitter Danny McNabb to set the stage for Palensky's heroics.
"I tried not to let that enter my mind," Palensky said of Lubking's bid for a no-hitter, "and I certainly didn't try to break it up by hitting it over the fence — but I'm glad it went over."
With no wind to push it back, as is typical at Harry & David Field, Palensky's blast had no-doubter written all over it as it cleared the fence and set off a melee among the Rogues players, who hit the first baseman harder than anything else in the twin bill.
"It's good to see that we're having a lot more fun," Palensky said of the outburst. "Once you start winning, things start rolling and guys tend to play a lot looser and it tends to go in the right direction even more because you stop questioning each other and your own abilities."
Tuesday's sweep, combined with a win Sunday at Walla Walla, allowed Medford to tie a season-high with its third straight win and snap a five-game home losing streak. The Rogues will go in search of a three-game series sweep of Wenatchee (8-9) at 6:35 tonight.
It's a challenge to remain confident and focused when the other team's pitcher keeps returning batter after batter to the dugout, but that's exactly what Medford was able to do during Game 2. When his third time up against Lubking came around, Palensky said he was definitely comfortable in the situation.
"My whole life my dad always has said the more pitches you see in an at-bat, the more likelihood you're probably going to be successful in it," said the junior from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "I really wasn't looking for anything specific — honestly I was just trying to shoot the ball the other way — but I remembered that he had beaten me on two fastballs inside earlier in the day so I figured he might try to do it again. I just put a good swing on it and God put it over the fence."
The blast made a winner of relief pitcher Chase Tokunaga, who replaced Jeff Hardy in the seventh and followed a solid pitching debut for the Rogues by starter Justin Jacome. In his first game for Medford, Jacome scattered six hits in five innings and struck out six.
"It's a credit to our pitchers for giving us a chance in these games because we haven't exactly been putting up a lot of numbers on the scoreboard," added Palensky. "They're keeping us in the game and we're playing good defense, and timely hitting is what it's all about."
Timely hitting was again on Medford's side in the opener.
Oregon-bound second baseman Balta, asked to bunt on two of his first three at-bats, was unable to get a sacrifice effort down in the bottom of the seventh so he went ahead and took matters into his own hands on the fourth pitch of his at-bat.
With Urban on second base and Parker Miles on first after each drew walks to lead off the seventh, Balta slapped a single into shallow right-center field and Urban never slowed to score the game-winner.
"It was a little crazy there," said Rogues manager Josh Hogan, whose team led 4-1 in the third inning of the first game. "We try to make it interesting."
Balta, who upped his batting average to .271 in the opener, had previously reached safely on a first-inning bunt and advanced a teammate on a fourth-inning sacrifice. He finished 2-for-3 with one run and one RBI.
"He had two really good (sacrifice) bunts early on in the game," said Hogan. "He didn't get the first two down on that last at-bat but he didn't freak out. We put a slash on and the defense was a little out of position and he got a hit out of it, so that was good."
The hit rescued the Rogues in a game they appeared to have in hand thanks to a three-run first inning. After Brett Stephens opened the game with a triple and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Grant Palmer for the game's first run for Wenatchee, Medford answered behind three hits and a hit batter in its half of the first.
Miles took a pitch to the back to open the frame and Balta reached safely on a perfectly placed bunt. After Matt Taylor advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt, designated hitter Kevin Davidson ripped an RBI single past third baseman Stockton Taylor to tie the contest. A passed ball put Davidson in scoring position, which became key moments later when McNabb singled into shallow left field and both Rogues runners came in to score.
The Rogues built a 4-1 lead in the third when Miles drew a leadoff walk and advanced on a one-out single by Taylor and hit-by-pitch to Davidson that loaded the bases. McNabb followed with a fielder's choice to plate Miles.
Wenatchee made things interesting in the sixth inning, however, when the visiting team from Washington scrambled for three runs to tie the contest. Undaunted, the Rogues remained poised with the game on the line in the final inning.
"What I really liked is our guys didn't fold after that and say, 'Oh boy, here we go again,'" said Hogan. "There wasn't any panic in the guys and the whole day there was great energy in the dugout and great focus."
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Stephens lf 4 2 3 0 Miles 3b 1 2 1 0
Palmer ss 2 1 0 1 Balta 2b 3 1 2 1
Slavin cf 2 1 0 0 M. Taylor lf 2 0 1 0
Real 2b 2 0 0 0 Davidson dh 2 1 2 1
Spencer 1b 3 0 2 1 Newton pr 0 0 0 0
Taylor 3b 3 0 1 1 McNabb rf 2 0 1 3
Barr rf 3 0 0 0 Wynant ss 2 0 0 0
Harris c 3 0 1 0 Page 1b 3 0 0 0
Mer-Hood dh 3 0 0 0 Teel c 3 0 0 0
Urban cf 1 1 1 0
Totals 25 4 7 3 Totals 19 5 8 5
Wenatchee 100 003 0 —4
Medford 301 000 1 —5
E—Wynant, Teel. DP—Medford 2. LOB—Wenatchee 4, Medford 6. 2B—Stephens, Spencer. 3B—Stephens. SB—Stephens. CS—Harris, Miles, McNabb, Urban 2.
IP H R ER BB SO
Patke 51/3 7 4 3 3 2
Burdick,L (0-1) 2/3 1 1 1 2 1
Keene 5 4 4 3 1 3
Forsythe 0 1 0 0 0 0
Lujan,W (1-0) 2 2 0 0 0 1
HBP—Slavin (by Keene), Miles (by Patke), Davidson (by Patke). WP—Patke, Lujan 2. Umpires—Home, Jerry Eklund First, Eric Best Third, Eric Martinez. T—2:06. A—889.
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Stephens lf 4 0 2 0 Miles 3b 3 0 0 0
Palmer ss 4 0 0 0 Whisler 2b 1 0 0 0
Slavin cf 3 0 1 0 Weiss ph-2b 1 0 0 0
Real 2b 2 1 1 0 Davidson dh 3 0 0 0
Spencer 1b 2 0 1 0 M. Taylor lf 2 0 0 0
S. Taylor 3b 3 0 1 0 McNabb lf 0 1 0 0
Bruml dh 3 0 1 0 Palensky 1b 3 1 1 2
Hutting c 3 0 1 0 George rf 2 0 0 0
Barr rf 2 0 1 0 Pacheco c 2 0 0 0
McIntire ss 2 0 0 0
Smith cf 1 0 0 0
Totals 26 1 9 0 Totals 20 2 1 2
Wenatchee 000 001 0 —1
Medford 000 000 2 —2
E—Spencer, Hardy. DP—Medford 1. LOB—Wenatchee 7, Medford 2. 2B—Slavin, S. Taylor. HR—Palensky (2). SB—Stephens, Barr, Whisler. CS—Stephens, Spencer, S. Smith.
IP H R ER BB SO
Lubking,L (0-3) 61/3 1 2 2 2 7
Jacome 5 6 0 0 0 6
Hardy 1 2 1 0 1 0
Tokunaga,W (1-0) 1 1 0 0 0 0
HBP—Spencer, Smith. Umpires—Home, Eric Best First, Jerry Eklund Third, Eric Martinez. T—1:41. A—1,130.
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