Little more than three hours after Princeton closed out a game suspended from the night before – what ended as a grueling 11-10, 11-inning victory in which the Rays overcame a six-run deficit – Princeton found itself trailing Burlington, 8-5, in the bottom of the 8th of Thursday night's regularly scheduled game.
Princeton’s bullpen was thin. A doubleheader on Tuesday preceded the use of four relievers in the 11-inning win, and when the starting pitching faltered in the nightcap the ‘pen followed. Francisco German threw one pitch to begin the home 8th, and it was a called strike. But German immediately showed discomfort and, after an on-field meeting of the team’s manager, pitching coach, and athletic trainer, was removed from the game.
Princeton was out of pitchers.
Manager Danny Sheaffer beckoned second baseman Connor Hollis to the mound and handed him the ball.
Hollis is a non-drafted free agent signee. He hasn’t played much – Thursday was Princeton’s 16th game of the Appalachian League season, but only Hollis’ fifth. It began well enough. Hollis lined a sharp single off Burlington starting pitcher Daniel Lynch, a 1st Round draft pick with a $1.7 million signing bonus. Later, Hollis led off the top of the 8th with a double, igniting a two-run rally that got Princeton within 8-5. The Rays had trailed 7-0 after five innings.
But, pitching? It had been a while. Hollis played four seasons over five years at the University of Houston – injury robbed him of all but two games as a sophomore, and he took a medical redshirt -- in a career that began 2014. He had never pitched for the Cougars.
But there he was.
Never throwing hard but never throwing anything straight, Hollis retired the first batter he faced and, after a one-out walk, induced the next two Royals to fly out. The score remained 8-5.
Jake Palomaki started the top of the 9th by coaxing a full-count walk. That brought up Hollis, who also worked a full count before clubbing a line drive over the wall in left for a two-run home run.
It was his first professional homer, and it made the score 8-7.
After a pitching change, Rays shortstop Wander Franco tied the score with a booming homer well beyond the wall in right center.
Hollis would have to pitch more.
Angel Medina led off the bottom of the 9th with a solid single, but catcher Jean Ramirez threw him out trying to steal second. Good thing, too, because two batters later Hollis allowed another single, to Rhett Aplin, and Brhet Bewley drove the next pitch deep to right … but the fly ball came up short and the game was on to extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, Hollis hit his second double of the game, capping a three-run Princeton rally that put the Rays ahead 11-8. Remarkable – after trailing by seven, Princeton had scored 11 of the game’s next 12 runs.
Hollis would have to pitch more.
The Royals reached Hollis for a run to get within 11-9 and brought the tying run to the plate twice. But Hollis got Jeison Guzman to ground out to second basemen Jonathan Aranda … and when Jackson Lueck’s fly ball settled into the glove of left fielder Jose Torrealba, Princeton celebrated one of the more improbably memorable victories in the team’s history.
At the plate, Hollis finished 4-6 with two doubles, the home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. All He was 3-3 over the last three innings with a slugging percentage of 2.667.
On the mound, Hollis worked three innings, allowing one run on two hits, walking one and striking out one.
He was the winning pitcher.
When was the last time a professional player put together a line like that?
Let me rephrase that: When was the last time a professional player put together an historically clutch line like that?
Someone tell the media!
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