Just moments before he settled into the batter’s box in the 10th inning Monday, Dominic Smith made a promise to his teammates: If he ended it, they’d party like it was 1999.
Smith made good on that promise.
The first pitch he saw was a 96-mph fastball from Chase Johnson and Smith took it a long way.
“We partied hard in there,” Smith said. “We partied hard on the field. It was a great time.”
Smith, who had left around 40 tickets Monday for friends and family, certainly didn’t disappoint.
In addition to his walk-off home run, he drove in the 51s’ first run of the game, giving them an early 1-0 lead, started a rally that led to them tying the game in the sixth and made his fair share of nice defensive plays at first base.
“They’ve been watching me play the whole weekend. I’ve been having pretty good games and my team is playing well, too, but to do that, it’s an indescribable feeling,” Smith said. “You can’t really put it into words. You’re just so happy your team got the win and on top of it, you were able to do that in front of family and friends who were there. It’s just a great feeling.”
Smith’s big day helped the 51s cap their fourth straight victory.
But it was a back-and-forth game that was in doubt for much of the night.
After the 51s went ahead in the first inning, the River Cats charged back with four two-out runs off of Las Vegas starter Ricky Knapp.
“That one inning (he) just kind of got up a little bit and wasn’t able to finish some guys off with two strikes. If you’re not making good pitches with two strikes and they’re getting some hits, it kind of spirals out of control a little bit but I thought he did a good job bouncing back the last couple innings,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said.
Knapp gave the 51s seven innings, which was exactly what they needed, as it puts their bullpen in good shape as they head on the road to Fresno. He left in line for the win after Plawecki turned the game’s momentum around with a line drive three-run home run to left field in the sixth inning and the 51s took a lead in the seventh on a Desmond Jennings RBI double.
“I think it definitely gave us a little bit more life,” Plawecki said of his home run. “It was starting to get later in the game and if you can tie the game up late in the game like that, it gives the guys a little more life.”
Before Plawecki’s home run, manager Pedro Lopez turned to outfielder Victor Cruzado, who was sitting on the bench doing the hitting chart, and told him they needed someone to “dump the ball over the fence.”
“We just needed something. Even if that homer instead of (a) three-run homer would be a two-run homer, I felt like that’s what we needed,” Lopez said. “We needed to get close in the game by a least one run in order for us to have a chance.”
But after the home run tied the game and Jennings put the 51s ahead an inning later, they lost their lead in the eighth when a Drew Stubbs single tied things up.
Thanks to two scoreless innings from Paul Sewald, it remained that way until Smith stepped in the 10th and sent things back to 1999.
“We knew eventually the team would click,” Smith said. “We’ve got too many guys in the lineup that can hit at this level and in the big leagues so it just so happened it kind of clicked over the last four or five days and we’re going to try to ride this wave as long as we can to win as many games as we can.”
Contact Betsy Helfand at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.