It was a storybook ending to a sloppy night for the Madison Mallards. In a game that featured 11 errors, the only play that mattered afterwards was the last one.
With a runner on, first baseman Harold Riggins crushed a 1-1 pitch over the fence in center to give the Mallards a 7-6 walk-off win over the Rochester Honkers in their home opener.
“My approach was just to look for a pitch I could crush,” Riggins said. “He kind of hung a slider…I actually thought I was out in front of that ball, but I haven’t had that feeling in a while.”
Before Riggins’ home run, the Mallards appeared headed for a disappointing late-inning loss in a game that was back-and-forth all night. Riggins scored in the bottom of the eighth to give the Mallards the lead, but a costly error let the Honkers back in the game.
After first baseman Chris Auten reached on an error by Mallards third baseman Troy Channing, right fielder Rance Roundy singled, putting the go-ahead run on base for Rochester. Aaron Dunsmore bunted the runners over and a single up the middle by pinch hitter Drew Beuerlein gave the Honkers a pair of unearned runs and a 6-5 lead.
Nick Chmielewski gave up the single in the ninth and was on the hook for the loss going into the bottom of the inning, but fortunately for the righty from the University of Illinois, Riggins came through with the huge hit in the ninth to give him the win.
“There’s no way we want to start a six-game home stand with that kind of loss where we were just one strike or two strikes away from a win and had it swept away from us,” manager C.J. Thieleke said. “To go right back and do it to someone else, that’s huge, and hopefully that will allow this home stand to be a good one.”
Although Thieleke did not want to make excuses for his team’s seven errors in Monday night’s game, he did offer one reason that could have led to the sloppy play: the Mallards hadn’t even practiced this season at Warner Park until Monday morning.
“The first time we got out here was in the morning for some groundballs to begin to get a feel for it,” Thieleke said. “Excuses, we all have them, but we’ve got to make plays and clean things up.”
Starting pitcher Jordan Hershiser struggled early for Madison, allowing three runs on three hits in just 1.1 innings before being lifted in favor of Cody Winiarski. Hershiser hit left fielder Andrew Thomas to lead off the game, and Thomas would eventually come around to score on a groundout to second base, putting the Honkers up 1-0 early.
In the second inning, Hershiser gave up a leadoff single to Roundy before hitting Dunsmore. After an infield single by third baseman Jance Jordan loaded the bases, center fielder John Glanis singled to drive in two more runs for Rochester.
“We did a horrible job all night of getting that leadoff hitter out,” Thieleke said. “I think they had them on six of nine innings, and then you’re pitching uphill that whole inning and you can’t really get anything going.”
Winiarski and Dan Burawa combined to keep Rochester hitters at bay over the next 4.2 innings, allowing just one run on two hits between the two. Heim pitched a strong two innings and was in position for the win before giving up an unearned run in the ninth.
The Mallards improved to 3-2 with the win while the Honkers fell to 2-2.
An interesting play occurred in the bottom of the fourth when left fielder Chris Barker batted with two on and one out. Barker was hit by a pitch from Honkers starting pitcher Mike Goodman, but the pitch was ruled a ball by the home plate umpire because Barker did not make an attempt to get out of the way of the pitch.
In the end it worked out for Barker, who drove in the tying run later in the bat on a groundout back to the pitcher.
The Mallards will face the Honkers again Tuesday at the Duck Pond. Matt Jansen will start for the second time this season for Madison, facing off against Zack Robertson of Rochester.