In the midst of a three-game losing skid and being held to just one hit through seven innings, the New Orleans Zephyrs woke up at just the right time.
Buoyed by a Derek Dietrich solo home run in the eighth to get the offense going, the Zephyrs battled back to score single runs in each of the final three innings – including the decisive 10th frame – to edge the Iowa Cubs 3-2 in the second game of a four-game series.
Vinny Rottino, who had come into the game to run for Justin Bour in the bottom of the ninth, laced a game-winning sacrifice fly on the first pitch from Drake Britton (0-1) over a five-man, drawn-in infield, scoring winning-pitcher Nick Wittgren from third without a play.
“I was kind of looking for the first pitch. I know the bases are loaded and the guy was struggling to find his command and I figured he would try and get ahead with his fastball,” Rottino said. “It was up enough and I took a hack at it.”
The Zephyrs came roaring back against the Iowa bullpen after being held down by starter Donn Roach over the game’s first six innings. The right-hander allowed just a lead-off double by Cole Gillespie in the fifth inning, while striking out three and keeping the Z’s bats silent.
But Blake Cooper and Blake Parker couldn’t hold the 2-0 lead provided by a pair of RBI singles in the seventh and eighth innings. Dietrich’s second home run of the season led off the eighth against Cooper and Parker yielded Scott Sizemore’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the ninth to knot the score and set the stage for Wittgren.
The hard-throwing righty, called up from Double-A Jacksonville on Tuesday, struck out the side in the top of the tenth, including punch-outs of Addison Russell and Kris Bryant, two of baseball’s top three prospects.
Jhonatan Solano led off the home tenth with a double into the left field corner, but Wittgren’s bunt attempt went right back to Britton at the mound and the southpaw nabbed Solano at third. After a single by Jordany Valdespin and a walk to Austin Wates, Rottino delivered to give his struggling club a boost.
“We were pressing as a team a little bit and other pitchers can feel that and they get comfortable and make better pitches on us,” he said. “We were battling and some of our hits started falling and when that happens, everyone starts to hit. Hopefully that’ll continue after this one today.”
Starter Justin Nicolino appeared sharper than he did on opening night, firing six innings of shutout ball, allowing just five hits and two walks, while striking out four. Fabian Williamson and Ryan Chafee each allowed a run in relief and Nick Masset worked a perfect ninth inning for the Z’s.
The teams will conclude the four-game series with a double-header on Thursday, beginning at 5 p.m. The second game will follow roughly 30 minutes after the conclusion of the opener.