UNIVERSITY PARK Tyler Gaffney hasnt flattened a catcher in his 12 games with the State College Spikes.
He has crashed into everything else, including the right-field wall.
Gaffneys brave ways continued infusing the Spikes with energy as he made a spectacular catch in the first inning of Saturdays 5-2 victory over Williamsport before 5,106 impressed fans Saturday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The catch prevented Chris Serritella from belting a homer, and lowered 20-year-old pitcher Jason Creasys heart rate.
After elevating a fastball to Serritella, one of the Crosscutters top power threats, Creasy begrudgingly turned around.
Creasy might never forget what he saw. Gaffney, a former Division I running back who bypassed his senior year at Stanford to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this month, sprinted toward the padding-free wall.
Gaffney accelerated as he approached the warning track, jumped and raised his glove over the eight-foot barrier. His back slammed into wall, producing a thud that could be heard more than 400 feet away in the press box. He staggered to the dirt with the ball in his glove.
The catch ended the inning and saved two runs because Larry Greene earlier hit a two-out double. Asked if he has seen a comparable catch, Creasy said, just on TV. Never in person.
Manager Dave Turgeon called the catch an unbelievable game-changer.
It allowed our young pitcher to take a deep breath, he said. You really dont know what can happen after that. It could spiral south. Its a complete injection of energy into our dugout.
Gaffney, a 24th-round draft pick who has quickly emerged as the Spikes starting right fielder, acted like an outfielder roaming a pasture when the ball catapulted off Serritellas bat.
You go out there as an outfielder with the intent there is no wall there, he said. I went up, jumped up and knew there was a chance to go into the wall. I got the better half of the catch.
By the way, Gaffney runs the bases as if obstructions dont lurk. His hard slide upended second baseman Tyler Greene, preventing a double play in the bottom of the first.
In the eighth, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Gaffney relived his running back days and tried barreling into 6-foot-3, 190- pound catcher Logan Moore after Walker Gourleys single to left field. Gaffney braced for a collision. Moore stepped out of the way. Gaffney scooted past the plate. He turned around, lunged and stepped on it for the Spikes fifth run.
I was trying to make something happen by having the catcher miss the ball, he said. I think he gave me a little juke move, and I ran right by the plate a little bit. That happens. I havent been able to run into a catcher yet.
Gaffney is hitting .167, but two walks and a double raised his on-base percentage to .432. His impact on the Spikes, who won their third straight game and improved to 17-15, is difficult to quantify.
His mentality is very, very competitive and aggressive, Turgeon said. Its an upgrade for the team, an instantaneous leader in that way. Even before Tyler got here, our identity on the bases was aggressive. He embodies that.
The Spikes feature multiple running backs on the bases. The team has attempted to steal 62 bases, which ranks second in the 14-team New York- Penn League. Hard turns and forceful advancements are among the team's other aggressive base-running tactics.
I love this organization, Gaffney said. I have only been here 21/ 2weeks, but I feel like my style of play is meshing in with
everybody else. Im going to bleed that out and help everybody keep going.
Larry Greene, the Philadelphia Phillies 2011 first-round draft pick, smashed a Creasy fastball toward Houserville to give the Crosscutters a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Williamsport scored again in the top of the fifth. The bottom of the inning included a call reversal that helped the Spikes tie the game.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Jodaneli Carvajal fouled a ball off his foot. Plate umpire Jeff Andrews ruled the ball hit Carvajal outside the batters box for the third out. But field umpire Matt Moore reversed the call, prolonging the at-bat and sparking a lengthy discussion involving Crosscutters manager Andy Tracy and the two umpires. Carvajal then hit a two-run bloop single to left field to tie the game 2-2.
Gaffney walked, advanced to second on a passed ball, moved to third on Gourley's sacrifice bunt and scored the winning run when Mitch Walding misplayed a routine grounder in the sixth. Dalton Friend pitched three scoreless relief innings to improve to 2-0.
The teams play a doubleheader beginning at 5:05 p.m tonight at Bowman Field.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy