LAWRENCEVILLE — Lance Zawadzki launched a three-run, walk-off home run over the wall in right field and capped a shocking ninth-inning comeback by the Gwinnett Braves on Monday.
Zawadzki's fireworks were followed by a real fireworks display planned to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday. It was good timing.
The remaining faithful at Coolray Field were certainly rewarded for staying through a game that saw Gwinnett go down 8-0 and come back to stun Lehigh Valley 9-8.
“We hung around and there's one thing for sure about this ballclub — they don't quit,” manager Dave Brundage said. “They've proven that time and time again so far.”
“We did it in Norfolk (scoring seven runs in the ninth to win in extras on April 11). Usually they come around once in five or 10 years. To happen a second time, in that kind of fashion, down that many runs … I don't think you can draw it up any better on Memorial Day.”
Zawadzki, signed as a free agent by the Braves less than two weeks ago, still wasn't sure what pitch he got after it was all over.
“I was just looking for over the plate,” Zawadzki said. “I'm pretty sure it was a fastball. I hit it well, but I didn't know if it was going to go out because this field plays a little big sometimes.”
But it surely cleared the fence and he had a moment to reflect as he made the trip home with the team waiting en masse.
“The only thing I could think about while I was rounding the bases was me and my wife praying 10 days ago, not knowing what the future held (after being released by the Dodgers),” Zawadzki said. “It was a humbling experience on top of a humbling experience.”
Zawadzki's first walk-off homer as a pro was the final step in a rally that started innocuously enough with a pinch-hit solo home run by Christian Marrero in the sixth inning.
“I thought it was just something minor, but the homer from Marrero, pinch hit right there, in the dugout it gave us life,” Brundage said. “It gave us something and it seemed to take away a little from their game.”
The divison-leading G-Braves (31-20) added two more runs in the inning to make it 8-3.
Then came the ninth.
Marrero walked and Stephan Gartrell was hit by a pitch from Michael Schwimer.
Ernesto Mejia doubled on a line drive to center and scored Marrero — 8-4.
Joey Terdoslavich singled, bringing home Gartrell — 8-5.
Jose Yepez hit a grounder to left and Mejia was in — 8-6.
Josh Wilson grounded out, but advanced the runners and up came Zawadzki.
The first pitch was fouled off.
The second left the park, slicing through a dark sky to glory on the other side of the wall.
“We faced pretty big arms in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” Brundage said. “So we didn't do it off the back end of the bullpen. We did it off their hard-throwing arms.”
In a start delayed 30 minutes by rain, Lehigh Valley (28-23) wasted no time getting after righty Julio Teheran and quickly built a 3-0 lead.
John Suomi, who was 4-for-5, smacked a hanging slider from Teheran into right field and plated a pair of runs. A double by Cody Overbeck went to the warning track and brought Suomi home for the three-run lead.
Lehigh Valley tacked on three more runs in the third.
Suomi continued to swing the hot bat, homering over the fence in the left-field corner.
A throwing error by Teheran allowed Steve Susdorf to scamper in from third and starting pitcher Dave Bush, who singled in the first, launched an RBI sacrifice fly to right to push the lead to 6-0.
That was the end of the night for Teheran, though not for the IronPigs offense. Susdorf scored Kevin Frandsen on a sacrifice to left in the fourth off Buddy Carlyle and three straight singles paved the way for another run in the sixth off Dusty Hughes.
“Teheran struggled,” Brundage said. “Him coming off probably his best outing of the year in Rochester, he couldn't get his fastball down. And every time he left a pitch up, they hit it. They did what they were supposed to do with pitches that are up in the zone.
“But you credit the bullpen and guys putting up some innings. Only giving up two runs from the bullpen's standpoint, you just don't ever know with this team. You really don't.”
The G-Braves' offense looked anemic against Bush for five innings. They left two runners in scoring position in the bottom of the first and went down in order in the second, third and fourth innings.
Gwinnett finally got to Bush in the sixth, scoring three runs off four hits and an error. Marrero got things going with a lead-off solo home run. He sent a long shot sailing over the fence in right field. Bush also gave up hits to Mejia, Terdoslavich and, the biggest, a two-RBI single that dropped into shallow right by Zawadzki.
“That was a huge at-bat (by Marrero),” Zawadzki said. “A guy coming off the bench, really, that sparked something. The next couple guys hit the ball well. Then you get to the ninth inning and it's like a domino effect with this team it seems like.”
“I haven't been here long enough to really tell you that happens often,” Zawadzki added with a laugh, “but just to be a part of that, the fight, the guys, there's such great chemistry on this team. It's almost not surprising things like that happen.”