HILLSBORO, Ore. — Even as his team’s offense continued to struggle to muster much of anything against Salem-Keizer pitching, Hillsboro shortstop Liover Peguero had a feeling his team would come out on top in the first game of the Northwest League playoffs.
In the bottom of the ninth, he made sure of it.
With runners on first and second and one out, Peguero got a fat fastball from Salem-Keizer closer Miguel Figueroa and lined it deep into the left-center field gap. The ball took a hop, bounced over the wall and sealed the Hops’ 2-1 victory in front of a raucous crowd at Hillsboro’s Ron Tonkin Field.
“We were talking in the fifth inning about, ‘Hey, we cannot be comfortable,’” Peguero explained. “We know that something’s going to happen because we were the (first-place) team in the league, we were the best, so right there it happened.”
That run completed the comeback, which was started an inning earlier thanks to the legs and instincts of center fielder Corbin Carroll. One of the newest additions to BA’s Top 100 Prospects list, Carroll started the inning with a grounder to first base.
Figueroa failed to cover first, however, and Carroll used his double-plus speed to beat first baseman Carter Aldrete to the bag. A few pitches later, Figueroa’s pickoff throw got away from Aldrete and Carroll scampered to second.
“As soon as I saw the first baseman give up on getting to the bag and turn to the pitcher, I knew I had it,” Carroll said. “There’s not a lot of pitchers who are going to get off the mound that quick. I rolled over the ball a little bit so I was kind of already headed toward first, and it happened.”
Two hitters later, Hillsboro designated hitter Andy Yerzy lined a single to right that allowed Carroll to dash home with a run that tied the game and kept Hillsboro from wasting a near-perfect outing from starter Tyler Holton and reliever Nick Snyder.
Holton, whom the D-backs selected in the ninth round of the 2019 draft despite Tommy John surgery that limited his junior season at Florida State to just 4.2 innings, threw 74 of his 75 pitches with impeccable precision.
The one mistake he made, an elevated fastball in the fourth inning to leadoff man Yorlis Rodriguez, was clubbed over the left-field wall for a home run that gave Salem-Keizer the slim lead it held until the eighth inning.
Otherwise, Holton spent the rest of his outing spotting an upper-80s fastball with cutting life, a nasty changeup in the low 80s and a big-breaking curveball nearly anywhere he wanted in or out of the zone. If he wasn’t getting swings and misses, he was getting weak contact.
He finished his six innings with Rodriguez’s homer as the only blemish on an outing that also featured 10 strikeouts and no walks. It also marked the third straight start (with one relief appearance mixed in) in which Holton has racked up double-digit strikeouts.
Snyder, Arizona’s 11th-rounder out of West Virginia in this year’s draft and Holton’s normal piggyback partner, entered in the seventh and continued Hillsboro’s efficient domination of Salem-Keizer’s hitters. The lefthander needed just 27 pitches to spin three perfect innings and give his team the time it needed to put together the tying and winning rallies.
“It was an incredible game. It was a boxing fight, one punch after another and their pitchers did an incredible job. The batters, the resiliency all throughout the game to never give up,” Holton said. “We felt like we were going to have that one push through at some point. We didn’t know when it was going to happen, but that’s what playoff baseball is all about. We had the last punch playing at home, and we were able to deliver it. It was incredible to be a part of that.”
Rodriguez’s home run took away any chance Hillsboro had at a perfect game, but Holton’s and Snyder’s work on the mound and Peguero’s clutch hit in the ninth made sure the night had a perfect ending.