HIGH POINT, N.C. – Michael Martinez is used to September baseball. The seven-year Major League veteran was a key part of Cleveland’s run to the 2016 World Series. So when Martinez stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in a 1-1 game for the High Point Rockers on Wednesday night, he certainly didn’t wilt under the pressure.
Instead, the Rockers’ second-year second baseman hit a 2-0 pitch from Lancaster reliever Brandyn Sittinger over the fence in right field for a walk-off grand slam, the second of the season from the Rockers. The slam gave High Point a 5-1 victory in a hard-fought, old school game during a time when the Rockers are scraping for every win while trying to grab a berth in the Atlantic League playoffs.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play,” said Martinez following the blast and the ensuing water cooler celebration. “The infield was in and I had a chance. It was a 2-0 pitch and I was looking fastball.”
The thrilling finish belied what had been a very old fashioned contest. Great pitching, few hits, fewer runs, and a pair of starting pitchers who each went seven or more innings.
High Point knuckleballer Mickey Jannis, another Major League veteran, had the Barnstormers chasing the elusive knuckler to the tune of seven strikeouts in 7.2 innings. He allowed just five hits and the lone run he yielded came in the second inning when Ariel Sandoval doubled and scored on a single by Anderson Feliz.
Likewise, Lancaster’s Oscar De La Cruz was nearly unhittable, striking out nine in his seven innings of work, giving up just three hits. De La Cruz was perfect through three and didn’t allow a hit until Martinez beat out an infield chopper to start the fifth. After Jay Gonzalez sacrificed Martinez to second, Giovanny Alfonzo laced a double over the head of rightfielder Jacob Barfield, scoring Martinez and knotting the game at 1-1.
De La Cruz departed after the seventh and Gray Fenter threw a scoreless eighth for the Barnstormers. Jannis exited with two outs in the eighth with runners at first and second and Ryan Dull came on to retire Andretty Cordero and end the inning. Dull allowed a double in the top of the ninth but struck out three to keep the game tied going to the bottom of the ninth.
Zander Wiel walked on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Brandyn Sittinger to open the ninth and Quincy Latimore doubled down the leftfield line to put runners at second and third. The Barnstormers elected to intentionally walk Logan Morrison and brought in Chris Proctor from rightfield to set up a five-man infield. That’s when Martinez unloaded on Sittinger’s 2-0 fastball.
The win puts the Rockers at 66-56 overall on the year and a half-game in front of Lancaster (65-56) in the Atlantic League Wild Card race.
With the series square at one game apiece, the Rockers and Barnstormers will meet for the final time in the regular season on Thursday at 6:35 p.m. at Truist Point. High Point will send Liam O’Sullivan (3-5, 7.17 ERA) to the mound to face Erik Manoah, Jr. (3-2, 4.16). It will be Thirsty Thursday with $1 beer specials and also Pink at the Point with the Rockers wearing special jerseys that will be auctioned off following the game with the proceeds going to fight breast cancer.