HILLSBORO – Thursday night saw a game that the Eugene Emeralds (50-37) seemingly tried to give away while simultaneously refusing to lose, earning an insane 11-6 win in ten innings over the Hillsboro Hops (41-45) on a toasty, smoky night at Ron Tonkin Field.
For the third consecutive game, the Emeralds opened the scoring first via the long ball. Tyler Fitzgerald wasted no time, belting the first pitch from Hillsboro starter Kyler Stout over the left field fence for his fourteenth homer of the season to give the Emeralds a 1-0 lead in the blink of an eye.
That lead would last only a matter of moments, though, as Hillsboro leadoff man Eduardo Diaz followed Fitzgerald’s lead with a solo homer in the bottom of the first to tie the game at 1-1 on what was Diaz’s third homer in as many games.
In the second, Hillsboro took the lead after Blaze Alexander singled home AJ Vukovich who had tripled in the at-bat prior, and the Hops added another later in the inning when Eduardo Diaz flew out to left field to score Alexander from third to make it 3-1.
Eugene cut their deficit back to one an inning later in the third when Kwan Adkins, making his first start as an Emerald after being promoted from the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League the day prior, belted a solo homer into the Hops bullpen on an 0-2 pitch that made it a 3-2 game.
However, Hillsboro responded with their second straight two-run inning in the home half of the third as Tristin English hit his sixth homer of the season, a two-run tater that stretched Hillsboro’s lead to three, 5-2.
It stayed a 5-2 game until the sixth when the Emeralds offense roared back to life. The Ems sent eight batters to the plate in the sixth, highlighted by a two-strike, two-RBI single by Carter Aldrete that cut Eugene’s deficit back to one, and one batter later Robert Emery came through with the game-tying base knock, lining a single into left that scored Logan Wyatt to pull Eugene level at 5-5.
In the eighth, Eugene took their first lead since the first inning when Heath Quinn led off the frame with a solo shot to left, lacing an 0-2 pitch just over the left field wall for his eighth homer of the season to put the Emeralds back in the driver’s seat, 6-5.
Emeralds closer Chris Wright entered to work the ninth, and he strolled to the mound a perfect 13-for-13 in save opportunities this season between Low-A San Jose (4-for-4) and High-A Eugene (9-for-9).
The inning started in unsurprising fashion as Wright struck out the first batter he faced, Danny Oriente, on just three pitches, but chaos ensued in the following at-bat.
On a 1-2 pitch, AJ Vukovich sliced a towering and tailing fly ball to right-center field, and while Ems center fielder Kwan Adkins arrived in time to make the play, Adkins ultimately overran the ball and made a sprawling attempt to dive backwards and make the grab only to see the ball trickle out of his glove and roll softly to the Ron Tonkin Field turf. When the dust settled, Vukovich found himself on third base representing the tying run with just one out.
One batter later, Blaze Alexander skied a fly ball to shallow right field for the second out of the inning, but again, turmoil followed. Armani Smith ran in to make the grab and had all of his momentum going towards home plate while Vukovich seemingly started to run home despite the catch being made in very shallow right field.
Vukovich, it turns out, was simply hoping to force an errant throw from Smith, and that’s exactly what he did. Although Vukovich quickly retreated to third, the throw from Smith was already well on its way and bounced past catcher Robert Emery and into the netting, thereby allowing Vukovich to scamper home and score the tying run in wild, weird circumstances. The throwing error by Smith served as Eugene’s second error of the inning and fifth overall of the game.
Despite being dealt an emotional gut punch in the bottom of the ninth, the Emeralds responded right back with a knockout blow the tenth.
Sean Roby started the extra frame on second, and Heath Quinn advanced him up ninety feet with a one-out infield single that put the go-ahead run in the form of Roby at third. With the Emeralds down to their final strike of the inning two batters later, Robert Emery came through with a RBI single to right that allowed Roby to trot home and put the Emeralds back in front, 7-6.
Kwan Adkins followed by working a walk on a full count to load the bases and bring up leadoff man Tyler Fitzgerald with the Emeralds desperately looking for some insurance. Fitzgerald delivered exactly that, and then some.
Nine innings after leading off the game with a solo homer, Fitzgerald mashed a 1-0 offering for a grand slam that stunned the fans still left in the stands while sending the Emeralds dugout into an uproar as the Emeralds carried an 11-6 lead into the bottom of the tenth.
Chris Wright made quick work of the Hops in that bottom of the tenth, setting Hillsboro down in order to complete a ridiculous comeback win, 11-6 in ten innings.
The Eugene Emeralds and Hillsboro Hops continue their six-game series on Friday at Ron Tonkin Field at 7:05 p.m.
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