BY CHAD DARE
At some point, the fans of the Danville Dans are going to figure out that their hometown team is one that like to find a way to win in their last at-bat.
Most of Saturday’s crowd of 5,142 for McPack the Place Night at Danville Stadium had left the park when shortstop Josh Miller delivered a game-winning RBI sacrifice fly in the ninth capping the Dans 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Springfield Sliders.
“We’re a team that plays for all 27 outs,” said Miller, a senior-to-be from the University of San Francisco. “We will always compete and we always think there is a way to win a game until that final out.”
Miller, who is batting .239 on the season, drove home his 13th run, and he became the sixth different Danville Dan to have a walk-off, game-winning hit. And for Miller, it came with his family in attendance from California.
“That’s not really a big deal, they have seen me get walk-off hits before,” Miller said. “For me, I approach the game the same way, every day, whether my family is here or not.”
And on Saturday night, his approach in the ninth inning was just exactly what his team needed.
With the bases loaded, no outs and facing a two-strike count, Miller got himself a pitch that he could drive in the outfield to bring home Drew Buddle, who had three walk-off hits for the Dans this season, with the winning run.
“Josh has been a really solid player all summer for us and it’s nice to see him come through with a big-time at-bat,” Danville manager Jason Watson said. “Josh had one of those nights where he seemingly hit the ball hard in nearly every at-bat, but he didn’t get the results you would expect. He didn’t let that affect his approach in the ninth.”
And Miller admits he’s been a little snakebitten, but even with that, the shortstop from Concord, Calif., has a good mental approach.
“My goal is to hit the ball hard in every at-bat,” he said. “If you do that, I believe you are going to win. You can’t control if it falls in, all you can control is doing your job.”
Miller’s sacrifice fly came two batters after Danville pinch hitter Corbin Olmstead tied the game at 3-3 with a rocket to center field. His RBI double scored Tyler Selesky, who drew the second of back-to-back walks to start the ninth inning.
The other key hit in the ninth was a slap hit by Buddle as Springfield attempted to run a wheel defensive play for an attempted bunt. Buddle, who had shown bunt on the first pitch, slapped the ball right through the shortstop hole, scoring Sam Maus with the first run.
“This team is just a great group of battlers,” Watson said. “We got things started with a couple of walks and Drew comes up with a big slap hit. Right after that, Corbin crushes a ball to center. And then Josh comes up with the game-winner.”
Earning the victory for the Dans in the second game was left-handed reliever Jared Burton, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past 22 innings. Burton, who improved to 3-1, was another player that had family in town for Saturday’s doubleheader.
“My job when I came into the game was to keep my team in the game,” Burton said. “I just went out there, threw strikes and my defense made plays behind me.”
And how does it feel to get the win in a walk-off game?
“It’s a great feeling for the team,” Burton said. “It would have been nice if all of the fans could have been here to see it. We really appreciate their support and I’m sure they would have enjoyed it.”
In the first game on Saturday night, the Danville Dans overcame a 3-0 deficit from the suspended game on June 25, to take a 7-3 with a five-run first and a two-run second.
But, they couldn’t hold that lead as the Sliders, who had lost 10 straight to the Dans before Saturday night, came back to tie the game at 7-7 and again at 8-8.
Danville’s Mitch Holtz, who came in the second inning, admitted the pitching staff just didn’t have it in the first game.
“I left everything I had out there, but I just got into a little too much trouble,” Holtz said. “There are going to be games like that and we just need to bounce back in the second game.”
Danville’s Jon Rashid took the loss, while Springfield’s T.R. Dunne got the victory and Jordan Pesko got the save.
But it didn’t come without a little controversy.
Pesko came into the game in the sixth after Springfield’s Robert Spath, the loser in game two, took his warmup tosses before the umpires discovered he wasn’t on the lineup card. According to Watson, Spath and Springfield manager Pete Romero should have been ejected for the illegal player. Instead Pesko got unlimited warmups before getting the final six outs.
With the doubleheader split, the Danville Dans remain two games ahead of an idle Quincy in the Prospect League’s West Division.
The Danville Dans are idle today and their next game is Monday at Terre Haute.