SURPRISE, Ariz.—At 29, Cuban defector and Rays farmhand Leslie Anderson was the oldest player at Saturday's Rising Stars Game.
He's seen more baseball than any of the other players, and he seemed to know he got all of the changeup Bruce Billings (Rockies) threw him on the 1-0 pitch of their bottom-of-the-ninth showdown.
Anderson connected and threw his arms up in the air as he started rounding the bases. Billings, though, didn't think he got all of it, nor did his first baseman, Brandon Belt (Giants).
"I thought he got in on him," Belt said. "I guess he's a big strong guy, though, and got enough to get it out."
The high fly to right just scraped over the wall, and Anderson's West Division teammates tumbled out of the third-base dugout to greet him at home plate after his walk-off homer gave them a 3-2 victory in the Arizona Fall League's all-star showcase game.
Anderson doesn't speak much English, but his teammates were more than happy to talk about how his game-winning shot earned them an extra $500 bonus for getting the victory.
"It definitely was different from other games out here, more fans, different atmosphere," said lefthander Patrick Urckfitz (Astros), who as a non-drafted free agent was one of the more unlikely Rising Stars roster members. "I signed for $15,000, so for me the extra $500 definitely helps."
Players for both teams said the 4,749 in attendance and the extra bonus money made it more of an event than the average AFL affair, which Billings likened to spring training. There was also some sloppiness, from lefthander Mike Montgomery (Royals) slogging through 35 pitches in the first inning while giving up a run to a pair of errors by third baseman Ryan Adams (Orioles) and a wildly errant throw from catcher Devin Mesoraco (Reds).
But there were some highlights as well, such as a running catch in left-center field by Ben Revere (Twins) to rob Belt of a hit on a deep drive. In the ninth, the visiting East loaded the bases off a pair of relievers, but former Texas righthander Chance Ruffin (Tigers)—a 2010 supplemental first-round pick—struck out Brandon Laird (Yankees) to end the threat.
"That's definitely the best situation to be in as a closer," said Ruffin, who got the win. "(The pitch sequence) was pretty much all fastball, but the last one was more of a cutter. It might have been a bit off the black but it was pretty close."
And in the seventh, righthander Jeremy Jeffress (Brewers) showed off one of the minors' most electric arms, blasting 99 mph heaters past Belt and then hitting 101 mph on scouts' radar guns to strike out Brandon Laird.
"I've faced that guy before," Belt said, "and he was throwing more like 94-96 with movement. Tonight every fastball was 99 and moving, and he dropped in a good curveball too. That made it a little tough. He was pretty good."
Jeffress said he's thrown 101 before, but never had received a standing ovation for it, as he did from part of the crowd Saturday when the stadium gun posted "01" on its two-digit speed-pitch readout.
"I'm really here to work on throwing more changeups," said Jeffress, who made his big league debut this season for Milwaukee, pitching 10 innings with a 2.70 ERA. "I put it in my back pocket for a while, but they wanted me to work on it some more here."
Jeffress' manager, Mike Guerrero (Brewers), said in the pregame that when Jeffress has his breaking ball and changeup to go with that special fastball, "He's unhittable." That was the case Saturday night.
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