Two things were evident in the 51s’ 6-5 walkoff win over Fresno on Sunday afternoon at Cashman Field: Wally Backman is still an intense competitor, and he still has a pretty good arm.
After getting ejected for arguing an apparent home run by Bobby Abreu that was called foul, the fiery Las Vegas manager slammed his batting helmet down on the infield grass, bouncing it high into the air.
Backman then picked up the helmet and angrily fired it about 100 feet into foul territory in right field.
“I was just mad,” Backman, 54, said. “You get your guys going a little bit. It worked a little bit. They dug down deep.”
Following Backman’s seventh-inning ejection, Eric Campbell drilled a two-run double to put Las Vegas ahead 5-4.
The Grizzlies tied it in the ninth, but Zach Lutz won it in the bottom of the inning with a two-out RBI double off the wall in right-center field.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had dropped a two-out double into shallow center, scored the winning run.
“When Wally gets tossed like that, it kind of starts a fire with us,” said Lutz, who is 7-for-14 (.500) with a grand slam and nine RBIs in four games this season.
The 40-year-old Abreu, who is 3-for-3 as a pinch-hitter for the 51s (3-1), appeared to launch a pinch-hit, two-run shot off Adam Reifer inside the right-field foul pole.
Abreu began his home run trot and was headed to second base when first-base umpire Jeff Morrow signaled a foul ball.
“I didn’t see where it landed, but I thought it was fair,” Abreu said. “Everybody thought it was fair.”
Backman, who was coaching third base, certainly did.
“From my view, it definitely was to the left of the foul pole. (Fresno’s) middle infielder said it was fair after the fact,” he said. “Bobby Abreu’s not going to run around the bases if it’s not fair.
“I probably should’ve asked for help from the home plate umpire. I don’t know if he would’ve said anything or not. It’s a judgment call. If it’s in the big leagues, you challenge it, but we don’t have the cameras and we’re not able to do that.”
Abreu, whose foul ball ran the count full, walked on the next pitch to help set the stage for Campbell, last year’s team Most Valuable Player who is 6-for-16 (.375) with five RBIs.
Nieuwenhuis is 8-for-18 (.444) with a homer for Las Vegas, which would be 4-0 if not for the bullpen blowing a 6-1 lead in the ninth inning of Saturday’s 8-6 loss to the Grizzlies.
“When you blow a 6-1 lead like we did, it’s really how the players respond the next day,” Backman said. “That’s what I look at, and there was no quit in these guys.”
51s starter Logan Verrett allowed three runs (one earned) on eight hits in six innings, with three strikeouts and no walks, in his Triple-A debut.
The right-hander followed stellar starts by Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom — who are a combined 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA, allowing two runs on 13 hits with 16 strikeouts and two walks in 18 innings.
Daisuke Matsuzaka starts today against the Sacramento River Cats in the opener of a four-game series at Cashman.
The Las Vegas bullpen, expected to be a bright spot, has struggled mightily, surrendering 17 runs on 24 hits in 12 innings.
Josh Edgin and Erik Goeddel gave up a combined seven runs in the ninth Saturday, and closer Jeff Walters blew the save Sunday and has allowed five runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings.
“Walters gave up the lead today and Goeddel gave it up (Saturday), but they’re going to be fine. They’ve got quality arms,” Backman said. “It’s early in the season.”
Backman’s arm is warmed up already.
■ NOTE — Wilmer Flores started at shortstop for the 51s after getting optioned by the Mets and relief pitcher Vic Black was placed on the disabled list, retroactive to Friday.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.