It has been quite a week for 22-year-old Connor Lewis.
Lewis, a first baseman from Columbia, S.C., signed his first professional baseball contract Wednesday, got his first pro hit Friday and then delivered his initial game-winning, walk-off home run Saturday night.
Lewis turned on and drove a 93 mph fastball from Joliet closer Santo Manzanillo over the right-field wall for a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Wild Things a stunning 5-4 victory over the Slammers at Consol Energy Park.
It was the sixth consecutive one-run game for Washington, and one it seemed destined to lose after Joliet took a 4-3 on Max Casper’s squeeze bunt that scored Danny Hernandez in the top of the eighth inning.
Joliet starter Blair Walters pitched eight strong innings, throwing 116 pitches, and turned the one-run lead over to the hard-throwing Manzanillo, the brother of former Pirates pitcher Josias Manzanillo. Santo Manzanillo (0-2) was once a highly regarded prospect in Milwaukee’s system and spent two years on the Brewers’ 40-man roster.
Washington third baseman Carter Bell hit the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth back up the middle for a single and was sacrificed to second base by pinch-hitter Nick Ratajczak. Pinch-hitter Scott Kalamar flied out for the inning’s second out. With his team down to its final out, Washington manager Bart Zeller sent up his third consecutive pinch-hitter, choosing Lewis, the power-hitting rookie from Lander University, an NCAA Division II school in South Carolina.
Lewis took a ball on the first pitch, then smacked the game-winner on the second pitch of the at-bat, setting off a wild celebration at home plate.
“The last time I hit as walk-off homer was back in high school,” said Lewis, who had never seen Manzanillo pitch until the ninth inning.
“The coaches did a good job having a scouting report for me. They said he’ll come right at you and he’ll have a couple of pitches he throws hard. I was sitting on something hard, not just one kind of pitch. All I wanted was a hit. I wanted to drive in that run from second base.
“I was able to run into one. I knew I hit it hard. I’m glad it went out. I knew it had a chance when I was running out of the batter’s box. I got it good. .. I’m glad the coaches had enough faith in me to send me up to the plate in that situation.”
Third baseman Grant DeBruin, who was 0-for-5 Friday night in Washington’s 6-5 win in 11 innings, gave Joliet a 2-0 lead only four batters into the game when his home run in the top of the first inning cleared all the advertising signage in center field.
DeBruin’s homer came off Washington starter Zach LeBarron, who was activated off the disabled list earlier in the day and was making his season debut. LeBarron shook off a slow start and completed 4 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and three runs. He threw 70 pitches.
Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the first with against Joliet starter Blair Walters but managed only one run. Danny Poma scored when Stewart Ijames bounced into a double play.
Joliet made it 3-1 in the third and, like Washington, scored a run on a bases-loaded double-play grounder.
The Wild Things battled back and tied the score with a two-run fourth inning, and has been the case so often this season C.J. Beatty and Ijames were the catalysts. Beatty led off the inning with a walk and moved to third when Ijames hit the first pitch of an at-bat into left centerfield for a double. Joliet center fielder Danny Hernandez tried to make a diving catch of Ijames’ deep fly ball but had it glance off his glove as he hit the turf.
Beatty scored on a one-out groundout by J.C. Brandmaier, and Ijames made it 3-3 when he raced home on catcher Maxx Garrett’s broken-bat single into center field.
Matt Purnell (2-1), the third Washington pitcher of the game, was the winner.
Washington first baseman William Beckwith was placed on the 14-day DL. The Wild Things have 23 active players, one under the league maximum. … Joliet placed outfielder Chadwin Stang on the DL and played Saturday night with only 22 active players, which is the league minimum. Stang fractured his left fibula Friday night while sliding into second base.