DES MOINES - Memphis’ bats went cold for nearly 12 innings on Sunday afternoon, but luckily they had a little extra time to reignite and keep their playoff hopes alive. Allen Craig’s 15th-inning single drove in Tyler Greene with the game-winning run, snapping a long run of futility for the Redbirds.
There were some hard times for Memphis, but not nearly as difficult for Greene who had been 0-for-12 in the series before leading off with a hit against Iowa reliever Jeff Gray.
“I was just trying to get on base any way possible,” said Greene. “Try to get a good pitch to hit, put it in play and get on. It was great to get a knock, get the lead-off guy on to get the inning started. Good things happen when you can do that.”
Greene and the Redbirds return to Principal Park on Monday afternoon in a game that will decide the American North division championship.
Sunday afternoon’s 4-hour, 35-minute marathon victory was atypical of a team that has shown plenty of poise and resilience down the stretch. Another victory on Monday afternoon will give Memphis the opportunity to repeat as Pacific Coast League champions.
“We’ve been doing it all year long,” said Craig, who went 3-for-5 with a pair of runs scored. “There’s a lot of fight in our team. We’ve been down by a lot more than that and come back to win games. We’ll definitely fight until the end.”
Memphis’ eighth pitcher of the game, Tyler Norrick, allowed just one walk over three scoreless innings to pick up the victory. It was a tremendous effort for a reliever who hadn’t had much success in Triple-A after being called up from Springfield earlier this season.
The left-hander put Sunday’s game on ice by striking out Iowa’s Jim Adduci with a runner on first.
“He didn’t stay on the breaking ball really well, and I wanted to throw another one further down to see what he did,” said Norrick. “I figured he would either take it for a ball or strike out. Fortunately the gamble paid off.”
After a sizzling open to the game against Iowa starter Jeff Samardzija, Memphis struggled even setting the table for a big rally. Between the fifth and 15th innings, the Redbirds managed just an Allen Craig single in the 10th.
With their backs against the wall, Memphis came out with a flurry. Memphis’ Daniel Descalso got his team on the board early with a solo shot into the right field stands in the first.
Iowa starter Samardzija’s rough outing continued, as he allowed singles to Craig and Mark Hamilton. Joe Mather followed with a two-run double and advanced to third on Jason Dubois’ throw to the plate. Mather trotted home on a wild pitch, giving the Redbirds a 4-0 lead after one-half inning.
More fireworks erupted in the home half of the first, as Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg was ejected while arguing a caught stealing call by third-base umpire Barry Larson. Sandberg and Larson engaged in a face-to-face discussion after Adduci was caught stealing second.
Memphis starter Oneli Perez’s command issues came to the surface in the second inning. After getting a Jason Dubois pop-out, he walked Bryan LaHair, Bobby Scales and Chris Robinson to load the bases. Matt Camp followed with a double into the right-field gap to cut the deficit in half.
Perez’s August woes could be traced back to those control issues. While going 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA in three starts, he issued 12 bases-on-balls in 11 innings.
The Redbirds were in business again in the third after Samardzija loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a single. Ruben Gotay then wasted no time lining a two-run single into right field, giving Memphis a 6-2 lead with nobody out. Although catcher Steven Hill grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, he pushed across Mather for a five-run lead.
Iowa’s Marquez Smith’s led off the bottom of the third with a double, took third on a ground-out and scored on Dubois’ bloop single to left, making it 7-3.
The Cubs continued to chip away in the bottom of the fifth. Brad Snyder led off with a double and scored on a Dubois single. One pitch later, Bryan LaHair launched a two-run single over the left-field fence and cut Memphis’ lead to 7-6.
That would be the end of the line for Perez, who was charged with six earned over four-plus innings. The 27-year old right-hander was erratic all afternoon, allowing 11 of 23 batters to reach base.
Not to be out-done by his Iowa counterpart Sandberg, Memphis manager Chris Maloney was ejected after engaging in a spirited argument with first base umpire Jason Arends in the home half of the sixth. Maloney contested a check-swing call that Arends made on Iowa’s Marquez Smith. Shortly after Maloney’s ejection, his team lost its lead with Brad Snyder’s two-out RBI single.
The Redbirds’ bullpen woes continued Sunday afternoon, as PJ Walters became the latest pitcher to hand over a lead. Walters allowed a run on two hits over 1 2/3 innings of work.
Samardzija put his early troubles behind him, retiring nine Memphis hitters before being lifted in favor of Luke Sommer in the seventh. Although his final line – seven earned runs on eight hits over six innings – was not a pretty one, he gave Iowa a chance to claw even at 7-7.
With its backs against the wall, Memphis mounted a threat in the seventh without hitting a ball out of the infield. Sommer issued walks to Tyler Greene and Allen Craig. But with two outs and runners on first and third, Mather couldn’t come through, lifting a fly ball to shallow left for the third out.
In the meantime, Iowa missed out on several opportunities to lock up a division title. The Cubs had runners on second base in the ninth, 11th and 12th innings, but couldn’t come up with the clutch hit.
The regular-season concludes Monday afternoon, with Memphis left-hander Evan MacLane (8-7, 4.35) opposing Iowa righty Jay Jackson (11-8, 4.58).
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