Joe Hudson’s patience at the plate was remarkable.
Never mind the pressure of the moment, the crazy kind of pressure that comes with game one of the divisional round of the Southern League playoffs.
And never mind the desire to want to swing for the fences in a situation where the bases were loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tied game on a warm September night at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
Hudson never flinched and his patience paid off. The four-pitch walk he drew was the deciding factor in the Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ 6-5 win over the Mississippi Braves Wednesday night.
It brought Sebastian Elizalde across the plate for the winning run, gave the 2,652 fans in attendance a reason to get loud one last time and pushed Pensacola into the early lead in its five-game series with its first playoff win in franchise history.
“What a clutch at-bat by Hudson,” Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said. “He put the (pitcher) in a hole and now the pressure mounts. It worked out for him.”
It’s not as if anyone expected this game to play out any differently.
Pensacola and Mississippi played 10 games decided by a run in the regular season. This also marked the 12th time this year Pensacola has won a game in walk-off fashion.
Were the Blue Wahoos concerned heading into the ninth inning of a back-and-forth battle with the M-Braves?
A little bit. That’s because they trailed the M-Braves 5-4 after Stephen Gaylor sent a ball that bounced funny off the pitcher’s mound and opened the door for two runs to score.
But ultimately, Pensacola knew with time still on its side, a win wasn’t out of reach.
“We were disappointed when they scored but we had that feeling that we could do something,” veteran infielder Ray Chang said. “It’s the way the Wahoos have been playing all year. You can never count us out.”
Kelly echoed those thoughts.
“We call it Wahoo baseball,” Kelly said. “We’ve been playing it all year. We were only down a run. We only had to score two to win.”
Phillip Ervin drew a walk to start the ninth and Elizalde followed with a hit through legs of Carlos Franco at third base. Zach Vincej loaded the bases with a hit of his own before Chang delivered a shot to left that tied the game at 5-5.
The rest was up to Hudson, who drew his walk moments after Taylor Sparks struck out.
Chang and Vincej tallied three hits apiece and Chang also made a tremendous play in the third inning, leaning over the rolled up tarp near the home dugout to record the third out on a grab in foul territory.
“I take pride in defense,” Chang said. “I’ll do anything to help the team win.”
Rookie Davis started the game but didn’t get the decision despite throwing six innings of three-hit ball. He allowed just one run and struck out eight, including the side in the first. His emotion was evident, particularly in the sixth when he pumped his fist after the defense behind him got the third out.
The game was still tied at 1-1 at that point but Pensacola went ahead 2-1 in the bottom half of the inning on a hit to center by Sparks.
The M-Braves regained the lead at 3-2 but the Blue Wahoos surged in front 4-3 thanks to a two-run double by Ervin.
“(Mississippi) was fighting and scratching all night,” Kelly said. “But typical of our guys, we came right back. Anytime you win game one it’s huge.”
Pensacola won 81 games in the regular season but that winning feeling has yet to get old. Chang said having experience from last year’s postseason trip – Pensacola was swept by Biloxi – means everything.
“You do come out with a different mindset,” Chang said. “I told myself I just had to pick up where I left off in the regular season. Last year I didn’t know what to expect. You just have to treat it as another game. A lot of guys here have playoff experience and it’s a big help.”