Leave it to the captain to save the day. Again. For the second time in seven days, junior right fielder Willie Abreu hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game for the No. 4 Hurricanes, this time a 9-8 victory over No. 17 Clemson on Friday night at Mark Light Field.
“I said it last week, I don’t even know what happened. And this week again, I don’t know what happened,” Abreu said with a smile about his walk-off home runs against Clemson and last Friday against Louisville. “I told myself to relax and see the ball and hit it. That’s what usually gets me through there. I wasn’t trying to do that again.”
Junior second baseman Johnny Ruiz led off the bottom of the ninth with a stand-up double to right-center. Abreu came up to bat just trying to bring Ruiz home, but instead brought the whole team out to the plate.
“I was just trying to get Johnny in from second base, and it just happened to go over the fence,” Abreu said.
No one was happier to see Abreu’s two-run shot to left than junior closer Bryan Garcia, who blew his first save opportunity of the season with two outs in the top of the ninth. Garcia came into the game in the eighth with Miami up 7-5 and gave up a solo home run in the eighth, followed by a two-run single in the ninth to put Miami behind a run.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch him pick me up like that,” a relieved Garcia said of Abreu. “Can’t say enough about him. He’s a great leader. When he went up to the plate, I always have a good feeling that he’s going to do something special.”
Clemson designated hitter Drew Wharton temporarily gave the Tigers the lead with his two-out, two-strike single off of Garcia. Center fielder Chase Pinder lined a home run to left-center in the eighth off Garcia to make it a one-run game.
The Canes (18-4, 5-2) led 7-2 going into the seventh, but the normally reliable Miami bullpen gave up six runs in the final three innings.
“We had a big lead there in the end and gave up six runs in the last three innings, which is not our bullpen. Our bullpen is very strong and that doesn’t normally happen,” Miami Head Coach Jim Morris said. “Our guys kept fighting, that’s the No. 1 thing. We kept fighting.”
The Canes fell behind 2-0 early but roared back in the bottom of the fourth with five runs, their most in an inning in conference play this year. Clemson committed two errors in the inning, the first on a bloop single by Abreu to right field that moved the junior outfielder to third and scored senior shortstop Brandon Lopez. Junior third baseman Edgar Michelangeli plated Abreu on a perfectly executed bunt-single to tie the game 2-2.
Junior designated hitter Randy Batista reached base on the Tigers’ second error when right fielder Seth Beer dropped an easy fly ball. Miami made Clemson pay for the mistake, scoring three more runs after the error. Sophomore center fielder Carl Chester drove in Michelangeli with a screaming double to left, junior first baseman Chris Barr singled to right to bring in Batista and junior catcher Zack Collins scored Chester with a sac-fly to left.
Miami added two more in the sixth to take a commanding 7-2 lead. Barr lined a triple down the right field line and was brought home by another well-executed bunt-single, this time from junior outfielder Jacob Heyward. Lopez drove in Collins, who walked to get on base, with a soft single to center that landed just short of Pinder playing center field.
Clemson (17-4, 5-2) closed the gap with a three-run top of the seventh. The Tigers loaded the bases on a walk and two singles off of freshman right-handed reliever Andrew Cabezas. Fellow right-handed freshman Frankie Bartow came in to face Beer, who leads the ACC with nine home runs in his freshman season. Pinder came in from third on a balk by Bartow, and Reed Rohlman scored on a sac-fly to right by Beer. Catcher Chris Okey crossed the plate on an RBI-groundout by Weston Wilson.
Okey opened the scoring with a crushing shot over left field in the first inning. Clemson added another run in the third on what should’ve been an inning-ending double play, but Ruiz threw past a waiting Lopez at second base, allowing Pinder to cross the plate.
Garcia picked up his second win of the season, the other coming when Abreu hit his walk-off grand slam to beat Louisville 8-4 last Friday. Senior left-hander Thomas Woodrey left the game after 103 pitches in 5.1 innings.
The Canes next play Clemson at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Mark Light Field.
Featured photo courtesy of Richard Lewis / Miami Athletics