Johnny Hernandez still believes catcher Tyler Patterson got the tag down.
The home-plate umpire, however, chose to disagree with the Thunder Bay Border Cats manager on Sunday night.
With one out in the ninth and the game between the visiting Eau Claire Express and Border Cats knotted 5-5, Express centre-fielder Jeff Hendrix laced a single to left, slamming it hard enough to convince Peter Van Gansen to scamper around third and attempt to score the go-ahead run.
Thunder Bay left-fielder Tyler Rolland had other ideas, and gunned the throw to the plate.
On a bang-bang play, home-plate umpire Tim Owens said Van Gansen slid beyond Patterson’s tag, ruled him safe and the Express took a 6-5 lead.
The wheels fell off the Border Cats cart from there.
Reliever Devin McLemore threw a ball in the dirt that clipped Owens’ hand and skipped to the backstop, allowing Brady Burzysnki to score an insurance run, both charged to Thunder Bay pitcher Nathaniel Leon (0-2), who took the loss after allowing the first two batters of the ninth to reach.
McLemore, who’s allowed runs in six of his last seven outings, wasn’t out of trouble yet.
Tyler Hermann, who had five hits in six trips to the plate yet, slammed the ball over the left-field wall, the three-run shot capping a five-run ninth for a 10-5 Express triumph.
Hernandez, who will likely face a league-mandated suspension after being tossed arguing the play at the plate, maintained the umpire blew the call.
“I thought he was out,” said Hernandez, who battled with Owens earlier in the game after Tyler Blankmeyer was thrown out at the plate trying to score in the first, the Cats up 1-0 early.
“I saw him tag him in the face and by the reaction of (Patterson), I thought he was out.”
Hernandez, whose team’s modest two-game winning streak came to an end, said he’s got to stick up for his guys.
“In the first inning, I thought our guy was safe. And I thought (Owens) missed that one. These guys are young, they make mistakes. It’s part of the game,” Hernandez said.
Hermann, third in the Northwoods League with a .381 batting average, said it was a crazy finish.
“It’s just a good team win,” he said. “Everyone was just working hard and trying to get on base to score a run, or whatnot. I just happened to go over the fence. It was kind of cool.”
It became clear early on that the Border Cats were going to have to go deep into their bullpen, after starter Michael Daley was chased after two innings, having given up four runs on four hits and a pair of free passes.
Nathan Aultman, Tyler Lequire and Ben Allison stayed the course for Hernandez and company, surrendering just a single run in more than five innings of relief.
Their steadiness on the mound allowed the Cats to mount yet another comeback. After cutting the lead to two in the second, they added three more in the fifth to take a 5-4 lead, the big blow a two-run single off Eau Claire reliever -- and winning pitcher -- Taylor Duree by Cats newcomer John Menken.
The seeing-eye single plated Tyler Rolland and Nick Studer, but the lead was shortlived, Hermann singling home Hendrix with the equalizer in the top of the sixth, the run charged to Lequire.
The loss officially eliminated Thunder Bay from first-half contention, a foregone conclusion given their dismal 8-18 record.
The Cats and Express (13-12) conclude Thunder Bay’s four-game home-stand Monday night at Port Arthur Stadium. The first pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.
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