Taylor Sparks doesn’t just embrace the moment as a pinch-hitter. He owns it.
With one out and the game tied in the 11th inning against the Mississippi Braves Monday night, Sparks crushed a home run over the wall in left-center, propelling the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to a 4-3 win.
Nearly four hours after the game began, many in the crowd of 3,943 already gone, Sparks finished off this grind-it-out game, crossing home plate after his big hit and celebrating with his teammates.
“I went up to the plate trying to smash one,” Sparks said. “Jogging around the bases, I was ecstatic. It was a lot of fun, especially with those guys coming out to home plate.”
Sparks has been a pinch-hitter three times this season. In all three instances, he has come through with a hit, including two home runs.
“It’s tough coming off the bench and swinging it,” Sparks said. “All you can do is go after the pitcher and wait for a pitch you can hammer. I got one and was able to drive it out.”
Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said Sparks just seems to have a knack for delivering in pinch-hit moments.
“I like Sparks in that situation. He’s had good at-bats pinch-hitting,” Kelly said. “I feel very comfortable with him up there.”
The Blue Wahoos seemed to be on their way to ending this Southern League showdown much sooner. Zach Vincej extended his hitting streak to seven games with a run-scoring hit to left that put Pensacola in front 1-0 in the fourth.
Phillip Ervin knocked in a run on a fielder’s choice to push the Blue Wahoos in front 2-0 in the fifth before Joseph Odom responded with a home run in the seventh to tie the game at 2-2.
Down 3-2, Alex Blandino came through with his eighth homer of the year, crushing it over the outstretched arms of leftfielder Dustin Peterson to tie the score at 3-3.
It turned into a battle of bullpens the rest of the way. They combined for 14 strikeouts. Kyle McMyne earned the win in an inning of work, allowing a hit and striking out two for his third win.
“It was fun to watch. It’s nice to see that kind of pitching,” Kelly said. “The only shame is Rookie (Davis) didn’t get the win.”
Davis, who took a one-hitter into the sixth, lasted 6 2/3 innings, striking out four. He gave up three runs on four hits.
But in the end, what matters most is the Blue Wahoos found a way to win another close game. It was their ninth walk-off victory of the season. Pensacola is 59-48 overall, including an 18-19 mark in the second half of the year.
“It’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team get that many (walk-off wins),” Kelly said. “It’s a tribute to pitching and defense. You always have a chance to win with it.”