It was the bottom of the tenth inning in last Sunday’s game between Hickory and Savannah. The score was tied at 2-2 with the bases loaded, two outs and Crawdads second baseman Travis Demeritte at the plate.
During the at-bat, Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale had a question for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the runner at third.
“Rags looked over at me and asked me if I could steal home,” said Kiner-Falefa, who pulled off the play in high school at Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu. “And so I said, ‘I did it before.’”
With that exchange, it set into motion one of the strangest walk-off wins for Hickory in recent memories. As left-handed Sand Gnats pitcher Alberto Baldonado started his windup, Kiner-Falefa took off for home and caused Baldonado to balk, which gave Hickory a 3-2 win.
(video courtesy of Trent Pace)
“Before he even started going, I started to take steps and closer to home,” said Kiner-Falefa. “Right when he started his motion, I was already halfway home and Rags just said ‘Go’ and I just went. By the time I went, he had stepped off and threw and I made him balked. Even if he had started his motion, I still would’ve beat him to the plate.”
In the aftermath of a 17-inning marathon the night before, Ragsdale said that with the game already again in extra innings, it had the feel of another long evening. With two outs and two strikes on Demeritte, Ragsdale thought it was time to take a chance.
“We just tried to make something happen,” said Ragsdale. “It actually wasn’t necessarily the outcome that I thought would come of it. It certainly wasn’t to cause a balk with a lefty going out of the windup like that. Kiner had a good 25-feet lead and I just told him to get as much as you can and if he don’t stop you go when he starts his windup. It would’ve been close otherwise. He would’ve had a good shot just banking on the kid throwing the ball and us being able to steal one there. It worked out, not necessarily the way we drew it up, but we were just trying to make something happen in an otherwise tough spot.”
Another part of the play to consider is what would have happen if with two strikes Demeritte had to swing and a presumptive third strike.
“Demeritte had no idea that I was coming,” Kiner-Falefa said. “After the game he told me, ‘Man I just about swung.’ I just said,’ I probably would have died.’”
Ragsdale said he was that he was certain Demeritte would be smart enough to figure out the situation and allow Kiner-Falefa a chance to score.
“Some time afterwards, I was like, you know what happens when you assume things and take things for granted with 18, 19, 20-year-olds kids,” Ragsdale said. “We definitely talked about it afterwards as to what he would do in that situation if it ever came up again.”
Looking back through the box scores, it was the first walk-off win by a balk since at least before the 2000 season (no game information is available from 1993-1999).