For starters, Cory Spangenberg has maybe never heard of a learning curve—he leads the Eugene Emeralds in batting average and on-base percentage in his short time as a professional.
He reminds manager Pat Murphy of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who Murphy coached while at Arizona State.
And on Wednesday night the Padres learned that he doesn’t shy away from pressure.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the bases loaded and the Emeralds down one run, Spangenberg’s two-run, walk-off single allowed the Emeralds to extend their winning streak to eight with a 3-2 win over the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on Wednesday night at PK Park.
Spangenberg’s most important hit as a big leaguer, so far, came on a first pitch fastball from Volcanoes closer Cody Hall.
“I was just looking for a fastball early in the count, and he just happened to put it in the first pitch,” Spangenberg said. “I was just looking for a pitch I could get a hit on and it just happened to be the first pitch, and I put a good swing on it.”
Until the ninth inning, the Emeralds (11-2) were unable to find their clutch hit—and stranded 10 runners on base.
“You have an outing like that where you really just can’t put hits together and you cant put runs on the board,” Murphy said. “I’m telling you, (Spangenberg) has been unbelievable.
“He’s a special player. He’s always at the same volume, and it’s a good volume, and he’s always there. He’s never too much higher or never too much lower. Every pitch is important to him. He doesn’t take any pitches off. He doesn’t assume anything. He plays the pitch. He’s a special kid.”
The Emeralds have started the season in ideal form, and Murphy says that it is the teams youth that has them battling for all nine innings.
“We have a young team,” he said. “I think that adds to it—they’re excited about being a pro baseball player.”
Murphy called Emeralds starting pitcher Juan Herrera “effectively wild” after spending the night flirting with danger, as well as at odds with his command.
The Bani, Dominican Republic native was erratic throughout his five innings of work, but in control when he didn’t have a choice. He stranded a runner in scoring position in each inning he pitched.
He was forced to find the zone in the third inning when Volcanoes left fielder Leonardo Ochoa single to left field to lead off the inning. Facing the top of the order, a Herrera wild pitched moved Ochoa into scoring position. Herrera proceeded to retire the 1-2-3 hitters of the Volcanoes order, stranding Ochoa at second.
Herrera battled throughout his start, but failed to allow a run while walking three and only allowing three hits.
The Emeralds first run came in the form of a two-out rally in the first inning.
After a two-out single by Spangenberg and a walk to Lee Orra, Travis Whitmore plated Spangenberg from second on a ball hit to left field giving the Emeralds an early 1-0 lead.
The Emeralds out-of-character, quiet offensive night didn’t come without opportunities to put a crooked number on the board.
Salem-Keizer’s speedy center fielder Jesus Galindo went air-born in left centerfield with two runners on base, stealing a hit from Clint Moore.
With two outs in the sixth inning, a string of singles by Daniel Garce, Kyle Gaedele and Matt Colantonio loaded the bases. Reliever Jack Snodgrass would bail himself out of the trouble by getting Mykal Stokes to chase an off-speed pitch to end the inning.
Spangenberg almost extended the Emeralds lead with a look-to-be sacrifice fly to right field. But Ryan Honeycutt gunned down Jace Peterson at the plate to end the third inning.
The Volcanoes (2-11) stranded 11 runs on base but finally found their timely hit in the seventh inning—coming from the San Francisco Giants 2011 first-round draft choice.
After back-to-back singles from Ochoa and Galindo, a slow chopper by Kaohi Downing put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position for shortstop Joe Panik. Panik singled to center field giving the Volcanoes a 2-1 lead.
The Emeralds ninth inning rally began with an infield base hit from Colantonio. A walk to Stokes, a fielder’s choice on a ball hit by Peterson and a two-out hit-by-pitch on Moore loaded the bases for Spangenber, who scored Peterson for the winning run.
“As a coach, you don’t worry about the wins and losses, you worry about how they’re playing,” Murphy said. “Of course the outcomes affect a lot of things. You worry about putting them in good positions to win.”