Scott Schreiber's Walkoff RBI Single In Extra Innings Lifts Surprise To AFL Championship
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.— For nearly four hours, Surprise and Glendale engaged in a taut, relentless battle for the Arizona Fall League championship.
Every time one team managed to take the lead, the other quickly responded to erase it. Every time one team appeared to record the game-winning hit, the other made a spectacular defensive play to nullify it. As the hours whittled on and the temperature dropped and the bullpens thinned, it appeared no one could strike the decisive blow to end the game.
No one, that is, except for Scott Schreiber.
Schreiber hit a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning to lift Surprise to a thrilling, 7-6 victory and the AFL championship on Saturday night. The Astros first base prospect drilled a 2-1 breaking ball into the left-center gap to score Astros teammate Will Wagner from second base with the winning run and complete Surprise’s wire-to-wire run as the AFL’s best team.
“It’s exhausting, but it was also exhilarating,” said Schreiber, a ninth-round pick from Nebraska in 2018. “I mean, our pitchers did a great job of keeping us in the game there at the end … They were able to keep it at one run and then we were just able to produce to there to finish off the game.”
Surprise came back from a deficit five separate times, including in the 11th. Glendale took a 6-5 lead on Austin Martin’s two-out RBI single to right in the top of the inning, but Surprise had one final comeback in it. After Pirates prospect Nick Gonzales started the inning on second base, Wagner tied the score with an RBI single to left and advanced to second base on the throw to the plate. Schreiber summarily stepped up against Dodgers reliever Tanner Dodson, got ahead in the count and didn’t miss a hanging breaking ball, pounding it into the gap and sending his teammates streaming from the dugout in celebration.
As soon as Schreiber rounded first base, his teammates mobbed him in a fit of joy.
“It feels great,” Schreiber said. “Just an awesome opportunity with all these guys here building relationships you know that'll last lifetime. It’s great to come out on top with the great season that we had here.”
Schreiber would not have been in position to win it for Surprise if not for some defensive heroics from his teammates.
With the score tied 4-4 in the eighth, Glendale loaded the bases with two outs and Reds slugger Noelvi Marte at the plate. Marte drilled a hard liner into right-center for what appeared to be at least a two-run double, but Phillies center fielder Carlos De La Cruz chased it down and used every inch of his 6-foot-8 frame to stretch out and make the catch at the last second to preserve the tie.
Surprise’s defense came up big again in the ninth. With one out and Glendale’s Matt McLain on third as the go-ahead run, Martin hit a high chopper that should have been enough to score the speedy McLain. Instead, shortstop Luisangel Acuña (Rangers) leaped up to grab it, came down and fired a perfect throw to nail McLain at the plate, preserving the tie once again.
That set the stage for more drama in extras.
Glendale took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th on Zavier Warren’s flared RBI single to left, but Acuña tied it in the bottom of the inning when he ripped a single up the middle that deflected off Dodson’s glove and into right field, scoring Blake Sabol from second with the tying run.
Surprise had a chance to win it in the 10th with runners on second and third and no outs, but Samad Taylor struck out and Jayce Easley grounded to second, where Glendale second baseman Edouard Julien stabbed it with his backhand, collected himself and fired a throw to the plate just in time to nail Acuña trying to score the winning run. Dodson came back and struck out Gonzales to end the inning and escape with the score still 5-5.
Just when it appeared Surprise had blown its best chance to win the game, Wagner pulled Schreiber aside.
“We were talking about it the inning before and I was like, ‘You want me to walk it off or are you gonna walk it off?,' ” Wagner said. “And I was like, ‘I'll hit the double and here, you walk it off.’ ”
One inning later, the Astros duo did almost exactly that, lifting Surprise to the championship exactly one week after the big league Astros won the World Series.
Astros Prospect Will Wagner Continues Breakout Showing In Arizona Fall League
Wagner’s ability to find the barrel and control the strike zone have long been strengths, but his power surge in the AFL has elevated him into a different tier of prospect.
“I'd said it right in that inning right there, I go ‘I'm tired of answering all game,’ ” Surprise manager Mickey Storey said. “Like, we keep the answering, we keep answering. Knock. Them. Out. And Scotty knocked them out.”
Gonzales went 3-for-5 with a home run and three runs scored and Schreiber, Wagner and De La Cruz all had two hits for Surprise, which went 19-10 for the AFL’s best record during the regular season.
McLain and Dodgers prospect Jose Ramos each homered and Warren went 3-for-5 with two RBIs to lead Glendale. The Desert Dogs had leads of 1-0, 2-1, 4-2, 5-4 and 6-5, but couldn’t hold any of them as the Saguaros rallied to erase the deficit each time.
“I just make of it that it’s a team that is resilient,” Storey said. “A bunch of guys who really, really bonded. This team bonded, this staff bonded and we kind of knew within the first week that we got something that could be a great experience, much less a championship team. So it's not surprising to see that.”
Prior to the game, Orioles outfielder Heston Kjerstad was named AFL MVP after leading the league in hits (35), doubles (nine), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (61). The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft hit .357/.385/.622 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 22 games for Scottsdale.
The award marked a high point in Kjerstad’s long road back to baseball. He was diagnosed with myocarditis, a viral inflammation of the heart, shortly after being drafted and missed 2020 instructional league and the entire 2021 season due to the condition. His expected return in 2022 was delayed by a severe hamstring strain he suffered in spring training, further setting him back. He finally made his pro debut on June 10, nearly two years after being drafted, and hit .309/.394/.457 in 65 games with Low-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen.
Athletics first baseman/outfielder Lawrence Butler won the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award and Julien won AFL Breakout Player of the Year after tying for the league lead with a .400 batting average and leading the league with a 1.249 OPS.