Gabriel Martinez strode to the plate in the bottom of the 12th after a slight delay.
The hitter before him, Jacob Blackwood, had singled to put runners on first and second with one out. Martinez was busy removing a heat pack soothing his lower back, which was tightening up. He had spent the prior three innings receiving similar treatment between innings to continue playing.
Martinez then ended the game with a three-run home run to center field on the third pitch he saw, a slider. The T-Bones won 8-5 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark to advance to the best-of-five championship series against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, which starts Tuesday at home at 7:05 p.m.
The T-Bones defeated the Joliet JackHammers 3-2 in the semifinal round of the Northern League playoffs. Fargo swept its series.
“I was just trying to get good contact and get a base hit,” Martinez said of his at-bat. “A base hit wins the game. That’s all we need. I just needed a big swing to do what I did.”
The T-Bones signed Martinez on Aug. 24, the final day a player would be eligible for the postseason roster. They also acquired reliever Matt Perisho, who earned the win after allowing one earned run over three innings, via trade the same day.
“We brought him in for this exact situation,” manager Tim Doherty said. “He gave us a chance, inning by inning. It’s kind of a hold that turned into a win.”
The win came in the T-Bones’s third attempt to win the series. Kansas City lost 3-2 in game three and 16-7 in game four. It is now 2-2 in elimination games and 1-2 in game fives.
Martinez provided the big hit on a night the T-Bones offense – which led the Northern League in multiple categories – had a base runner in each inning except the second and 11th.
The T-Bones had to play a bit of catch-up in the later innings.
Joliet’s Bear Bay allowed one earned run over seven innings before being relieved by Wes Alsup in the eighth. The first two hitters reached base, and Martinez drove them home on a single.
That brought the score to 4-3 and former T-Bone Erik Hamren, who they traded Aug. 22, to the mound. He induced a double play to end the inning.
Hamren allowed a one-out double to Dwayne White the next inning and was pulled for another reliever. After recording an out, the JackHammers went to the bullpen again with catcher Luis Nieblas coming to the plate. He drew a four-pitch walk after entering the game following starting catcher Keith Hernandez’s knee injury in the seventh.
Brian Joynt, who entered the game because shortstop Jimmy Mojica suffered a finger injury, drove home White on a single to tie the score at 4 and force extra innings.
The JackHammers regained the lead in the top of the 12th. Perisho allowed a leadoff single and former T-Bone Brad Correll, who played with Kansas City in 2008 and 2009, drove him home with a double. That gave the JackHammers a 5-4 lead heading into the bottom of the 12th.
That appeared to be the game-winning hit. Nieblas – remember him? – led off the inning by reaching on catcher’s interference. Keanon Simon drove him home with a single two batters later.
Blackwood followed that with a single, which set up Martinez’s game-winning home run.