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Eastern League All-Star Game Ends In Bizarre Fashion

TRENTON, N.J.—Under normal conditions, Wednesday night’s game in Trenton would have been played under Minor League Baseball’s new rules regarding extra innings. A runner would have been placed on second base to start the 10th inning, and things would have proceeded for there.

The leadoff man likely would have bunted, and the next two hitters would have tried to lift a fly ball to give their team the lead.

Wednesday night’s game wasn’t normal. It was the Eastern League all-star game, so things resolved themselves a little differently when the game was still tied at 4-4 after nine innings. Instead of extra innings, the L-screen and a bucket of baseballs were wheeled onto the field.

Those were the preparations for the post-game hitting challenge, the EL’s preferred way of settling ties in its mid-summer classic. The contest featured Altoona’s Will Craig versus Reading’s Zach Green.

Here’s how it went: Each manager selects one hitter, who then had 2 minutes to take as many swings as possible. Home runs were worth 100 points, balls hit to center were 10 points and balls hit to the corner outfield spots were worth five points. A hitter gained 50 more points for home runs that hit the batter’s eye.

Green’s last ball died at the warning track, meaning Craig and the Western Division had prevailed.

"It’s definitely something you think about when you’re playing in your backyard with your dad or local kids in your neighborhood or whoever,” Craig said. "That’s definitely one thing you think about growing up.”

Simply getting to that scenario took a bit of dramatics, authored by one of the home team’s heroes.

Down one entering the bottom of the ninth, Eastern Division catcher Patrick Mazeika slipped a single just through the right side. Then, Reading’s Jan Hernandez nearly walked it off, but his drive to center fell just short.

That brought up Tim Tebow, the quarterback-turned-ballplayer whose mere presence had delighted the crowd all evening. With the crowd chanting his name, Tebow struck out on a 93 mph fastball from Harrisburg reliever Derek Self.

That left it up to Trenton outfielder Trey Amburgey, who had entered in the fifth inning in place of leadoff man Jonathan Davis. Amburgey ripped a 2-0 pitch into the left-field corner, allowing Mazeika to motor home all the way from first and sending the crowd of 8,296 into a frenzy.

Hartford shortstop Brendan Rodgers had the chance to win it, but his line drive was hit right at left fielder Luigi Rodriguez, whose home run in the eighth inning had given the West the lead it carried into the ninth.

Rodgers’ flyout meant the game finished tied (technically that’s how it goes down in the EL history books) and meant it was time to begin the hitting challenge, a four-minute burst of mayhem that put a neat little bow on a perfect evening of baseball in New Jersey’s capital city.

"I thought it was a great game,” East Division manager Jay Bell said. "As much as in these games you like winners and losers, still, for me it’s about the players and trying to get all the guys in the game, and both sides did. It was really good."

Gavin Stone Billmitchell

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Hardest Fastball: New Hampshire righthander Jordan Romano topped out at 96 mph in a scoreless first inning. Romano started the game and struck out two hitters, both swinging. Altoona lefthander Taylor Hearn, who started the game for the West Division, ran his fastball up to 95 mph, as did Reading righthander Edgar Garcia.

Best Breaking Ball: New Hampshire righthander T.J. Zeuch froze Altoona’s Ke’Bryan Hayes with a nasty downer curveball at 77 mph. Richmond’s Dillon McNamara also got swings and misses with hard-biting slider.

Best Changeup: Hartford righthander Matt Pierpont tripled up on his changeup, which featured excellent fade, against Bowie’s Ryan Mountcastle. Mountcastle swung and missed at the first two, then held up on the third before swinging at a breaking ball away for strike three.

Best Defensive Play: Hartford shortstop Brendan Rodgers made a fantastic diving catch in shallow left field that kept the Eastern Division’s no-hitter alive through three innings. New Hampshire center fielder Jonathan Davis made a sensational catch at the wall in the right-center field that took extra bases away from Richmond’s Ryan Howard.

Best Home Run: Luigi Rodriguez and Jan Hernandez both went deep in the game, but Deivi Grullon’s opposite-field blast was the most impressive. The Reading catcher, who the night before had blasted 25 balls out of Arm & Hammer Park in the home run derby, took a 95 mph fastball and laced it the other way over the wall in right-center field.

Best Eephus: Portland's Matt Kent entered after Romano and showed everyone the true meaning of mixing and matching and changing speeds. With a 1-1 count on Harrisburg's Taylor Gushue, Kent flipped in a 47 mph eephus that Gushue swung over. He followed that with an 81 mph fastball that Gushue waved at for strike three.

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