PENSACOLA, Fla. — Ben Rortvedt felt just like everyone else who remained late Wednesday night through nearly four hours into the 12th inning at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
“I just wanted to go home,” said Rortvedt, the Blue Wahoos catcher, laughing.
So he made it happen.
Rortvedt scorched a pitch from Christian Donahue, a Tennessee Smokies second baseman tossed into a fill-in reliever role, that went fair inside the right field line to score Travis Blankenhorn with a walk-off, 7-6 win to begin a homestand. The moment may have brought as much relief as joy.
The Blue Wahoos (37-29) were coming off five consecutive road losses against the Biloxi Shuckers and a season-high losing streak. It put them on brink of elimination in the Southern League South Division first-half race.
A win, any kind of way, brought a welcome reaction among Blue Wahoos teammates and brief on-field celebration.
“We went on the road and kind of got our teeth kicked in, actually, so it was nice to come home and come out with a W,” Rortvedt said. “Even though it lasted a little longer than it should have. Getting back in the win column was nice.”
The Shuckers lost Wednesday against the Jackson Generals, so their lead is now three games with four left in the first half schedule. Because the Shuckers now also hold the head-to-head matchup, the only wild scenario in the Blue Wahoos favor would be sweeping their series and Biloxi getting swept.
What mattered most Wednesday with the Blue Wahoos was finding a way to win a game and smile again.
They thought they had sealed things in the ninth inning. But with two out, Tennessee’s Clayton Daniel doubled off reliever Sam Clay. Jared Young followed with a slow, infield roller and beat Blankenhorn’s throw, as Daniel went to third.
Eddy Martinez then tied the game with his single.
Each team spent the 10th and 11th unable to score, as both teams’ relievers handled the minor league rule where a runner is placed on second base to start the inning at-bat.
The Blue Wahoos’ Zack Weiss, who previously pitched in Pensacola last year and parts of two other seasons when the franchise was affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, worked the 11th and 12th innings, getting four strikeouts.
With their bullpen out of viable options, the Smokies used Donahue in the 12th. The second baseman barely topped 60-mph with his pitches. But it presented a challenge.
“It’s BP (batting practice), but BP extended about 30 more feet, so it’s a different look,” said Rortvedt, referring to the big difference in velocity. “The second pitch (Donahue) threw me was slowed even more…. It was like 57 mph, so it kind of threw me off a little bit, but I was able to wait back and send us home.”
Hours earlier, both teams score a run in the second inning. Joe Cronin’s 3-run homer in the fourth inning gave the Blue Wahoos a 4-2 lead at the time.
After the Smokies regained the lead with three runs in the sixth, the Blue Wahoos came right back. Jimmy Kerrigan led off the bottom of the sixth with a single, and Cronin was hit by a pitch.
Blankenhorn followed with an RBI single and Jaylin Davis hit a sacrifice fly to grab the lead.
It stayed that way until the 12th.