UNIVERSITY PARK — To the victor goes the shaving-cream pie to the face. David Washington treated 3,712 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park to the State College Spikes first-ever walk-off grand slam for an 8-5 victory over the Connecticut Tigers on Saturday night.
When he finally arrived in the clubhouse after post-game interviews, Washington was greeted with the customary faux custard courtesy of teammate Steven Ramos.
“Oh, man it’s crazy,” said Washington of his first-ever walk-off home run. “That’s more excited than I’ve been anytime that I can remember. That was pretty cool.”
How about the pie to the face?
“That wasn’t as cool,” Washington said with a laugh, and remnants still caked to his face.
Michael Aldrete (1-0) got the win in his first day with the Spikes (17-14) after being sent from Single-A Peoria.
Tanner Bailey (0-3, 2) took the loss and blown save for the Tigers (12-20).
Jimmy Bosco, Mason Katz and Alex De Leon each went 2-for-4 for State College, which was outhit 14-12 by Connecticut.
It was an emotional game for Washington, whose bat careened into the stands after a swing and miss in the second inning during his first at bat. A collective gasp came from fans as the bat helicoptered into the crowd.
Meredith Frey, 10, from Bellefonte, was struck in the shoulder and forehead when the bat landed.
Frey was evaluated by medics and returned to her seat in the fourth inning. She left the stadium with the bat after meeting an apologetic Washington post-game.
“It’s embarrassing just to lose your bat anyway and then you see it go in the stands,” he said. “I swung hard and it was going fast. I’m just glad nobody got seriously hurt.”
It was about the fourth inning when the Tigers made a move.
Kevin Herget may have escaped the third by inducing a double play with one out and the bases loaded in relief of starter Chase Brookshire, but the Tigers wouldn’t be denied in the fourth.
Patrick Leyland (2-for-4, two RBIs), son of manager Jim Leyland of the parent club Detroit Tigers, mashed a 2-0 fastball well over the fence in left with a runner on to make it 3-2 after the Spikes scored a run in each of the first three frames.
Herget went 4 2/3 innings, gave up nine hits, four runs and struck out two. Brookshire gave up three hits, a walk and added a strikeout.
The Tigers eventually tied the game at three when Kasey Coffman singled and later scored on a Dominic Ficociello (2-for-5) fielder’s choice.
They took the lead in the sixth after Herget allowed three consecutive singles, the last from Brett Harrison (2-for-4), which scored Leyland.
However, State College answered with an opposite-field solo homer by De Leon in the seventh that tied the game at 4-4 and set the stage for an exciting finish.
After Aldrete left a change-up in the zone that Curt Powell punished for a double in the ninth, Ben Verlander — younger brother of Detroit ace Justin Verlander — drove in the go-ahead run.
Aldrete then attempted to pick off Verlander at first with four straight throws. Each play was close. Spikes’ manager Oliver Marmol sprinted out of the dugout to argue the third attempt with first-base umpire Eric Bacchus.
When Aldrete finally pitched to Raph Rhymes, a former teammate of Katz at LSU, a ground out sent the game to the ninth.
“It was a good game,” Marmol said. “Felt like we were hot early and were just going to break it open. (Connecticut) battled back and stayed in the game. In the ninth I told the guys we hadn’t had a walk-off win here all year so it’s time to do something for the crowd.”
Jimmy Bosco led off the inning with a single up the middle, followed by Cesar Valera reaching on an error after an attempted sacrifice bunt. After a Bruce Caldwell ground out, Ronald Castillo was intentionally walked, which brought Washington to the plate.
“I was looking for an elevated pitch I could put into the outfield to bring in the tying run and got a curveball up in the zone and was able to drive it,” Washington explained. “I wasn’t sure it was gone, but I was sure it was going to score the runner from second.”
The Spikes and Tigers will play Game 2 of the series at 6:05 p.m. Sunday. Right-hander Arturo Reyes (0-0) will start for State College. Connecticut will start left-hander Joe Mantiply (0-1).