Baseball can be such a beautifully frustrating game, and those emotions came to the forefront Monday night as the Medford Rogues opened a Great West League series with the San Francisco Seals at Harry & David Field.
Medford battled all the way back from a 5-2 deficit to take a late-inning lead, only to see its chances of victory slip away in a heartbreaking ninth inning that saw San Francisco tally the tying and winning runs with two outs when a grounder slipped under the glove of shortstop Riley Kasper for a 7-6 stunner.
Medford committed four errors on the night.
“We fought back to get in the game and put ourselves in a good position to win the game,” said Rogues manager Tyler Graham. “We just didn’t make some plays at the end that cost us the game, but we’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Graham added that he was proud of the way his players fought back to give themselves a chance at a potential third straight victory, but that was little solace for a Rogues group that entered the night in second place in the GWL standings.
“That was tough,” said Rogues right fielder A.J. Miller. “It is summer ball but we all care about winning and we’re all competitors. Dropping it at the end after we came so close and battled back, it was rough. But we face them two more times this week so we’ll get back after it.”
Medford (21-17) had won four of its last five games entering Monday, averaging 10 runs during that stretch. The Rogues will host San Francisco (13-21) in the second game of the three-game series at 6:35 tonight.
“We’ve definitely got to flush it but it leaves a bad taste in our mouths for tonight,” added Miller, who finished 2-for-5 with one run and one RBI. “Hopefully we can come back a little bit hungrier tomorrow and we’ll see who wants it for the rest of these two games.”
The Rogues seemed destined to escape Monday night’s game in OK fashion when reliever Gabe Smith got the first two outs of the ninth inning — the second when he picked off pinch-runner Brandon Burch at first base. But after Jay Vincent drew a walk, pinch-hitter Alex Athanacio screamed a comebacker over Smith’s head into center field to stir the Seals’ dugout.
A wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third base before Smith induced a grounder by Kevin Gregersen (0-for-4) to Kasper, who was just as surprised as anyone when he didn’t come up with the ball and had to look back at it as the ball rolled into left field.
Smith went on to strike out Brad Bussard to end the inning, but the damage was done. In the bottom of the ninth, Kody Garvin drew a leadoff walk but two strikeouts by reliever Taner Gaff left the game again in Kasper’s hands. With Garvin now on second base after a steal, Kasper sent a soaring shot down the left-field line that was hauled in at the fence for the game’s final out. Kasper finished 3-for-5 with one run and one RBI as one of Medford’s most productive hitters.
“Our team pulled together and whenever they scored we countered and we did what we needed to do at the plate,” said the Oregon-bound Miller. “We lost but I think it was a good game by both sides.”
After trailing since the second inning, the Rogues were able to finally turn the tide in the seventh inning with some tried and true baseball, as well as a little trickery.
Leadoff singles by Tanner Cantwell and Josh McIntyre against San Francisco starter Keegan Beebe sparked Medford’s uprising, and Garvin’s sacrifice bunt put each runner in scoring position. Miller then did his job with an RBI groundout to second base after a lengthy at-bat to tie the game at 5-all.
“I was trying to battle with that 3-2 count and he just threw a pitch over the plate,” said Miller. “I was just trying to put it in play and score the guy from third and that’s what we did. Baseball works out in funny ways sometimes, I didn’t hit it super hard but it scored a run.”
Cole Elvis then drew a walk to put runners on the corners for Medford, putting an end to Beebe’s night and bringing in Gaff. With attention on the reset, the Rogues pulled off a delayed double steal to notch the go-ahead run, with Elvis remaining in a rundown long enough to allow McIntyre to score from third base before the third out was made.
Overall, it wasn’t a usual night of run production for Medford, which finished 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base (nine in scoring position). The Rogues had been 2-for-12 with runners on base — stranding seven overall and six in scoring position — before Medford native Cole Carder stepped up in a big way with his two-run home run over the fence in left field to cut San Francisco’s lead to 5-4.
For Carder, who was named the Great West League player of the week on Monday, it was his fourth homer of the summer. He finished 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs.
Earlier, Carder beat out an infield single and eventually scored on an RBI single by Cantwell to open the scoring, but San Francisco came storming back with three runs of its own in the top of the second, highlighted by doubles from Brenden Avventino and Matt Monahan and with the help of one walk and one hit batter.
Kasper’s RBI double off the fence in left-center brought home Miller, who had singled, to cut the Seals’ lead to 3-2. It was 5-2 when Carder supplied his big blast to also plate Kasper, who had a two-out single just before the former South Medford High standout went deep.
McIntyre also provided a highlight moment when he leaped over the left-field fence for an inning-ending catch that denied a potential three-run home run by Coby Eckstein in the first inning.
San Francisco 030 011 002 — 7 9 0
Medford 110 002 200 — 6 12 4
Beebe, Gaff (7) and Gregersen; Barrios, Ross (5), Smith (8) and Elvis. W — Gaff (1-1). L — Smith (0-2). 2B — SF: Avventino, Monahan, Greenly; M: Kasper, McIntyre, Miller. HR — M: Carder (4).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry