The Springfield Cardinals rewarded the die-hard fans who hung around until the end of a wild home opener with a walk-off home run to win their first game of the season, 12-11 over the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
The Cardinals struck first in the bottom of the second inning. Connor Capel singled and advanced to second on a bunt by Scott Hurst, which Hurst almost beat to first base and he was bunting into the open space left at third base when the infield made a defensive shift. After Kramer Robinson walked, Jose Godoy then laced a two-out single to left center to score Capel. Lead off ma Irving Lopez then doubled off the left field wall to score Robertson and give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead after two innings.
Left fielder Capel also had a gem of a defensive play in the third inning when Naturals shortstop Taylor Featherston doubled down the left field line. Featherston tried to stretch the double into a triple and Capel fired a perfect throw to Montero at third to snag the runner.
In the third inning, Evan Mendoza led off with a single. Two outs later, Elehuris Montero slapped a double to score Mendoza to put the Cardinals up 3-0. After a walk to Scott Hurst, Kramer Robinson knocked in Montero with an RBI single to put the Cards up 4-0.
The Naturals answered in the top of the fourth when second baseman Gabriel Cancel hit his first home run of the second, a 2-run blast to deep left. The Cards led 4-2. It could have been worse if not for a spectacular throw from right fielder Johan Mieses to throw out Emmanuel Rivera who tried to score from second on a single by Meibrys Violoria.
In the Naturals’ 5th, a walk to Taylor Featherston leading off the inning came back to haunt the Cards after a double from Anderson Miller and an RBI single by Travis Jones, cutting the lead to 4-3.
Moments later, a major defensive error by the Cardinals with the bases loaded allowed the Naturals to take the lead. Samir Duenez hit a high chopper to second that caused first baseman Evan Mendoza to chase after it, and pitcher Evan Kruczynski didn’t run to cover first base, allowing Duenez to reach first. One run scored from third, but as the Cardinals were looking at each other at first, the runner from second rounded third to score and give the Naturals their first lead of the game at 5-4.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Connor Capel was able to get on base to start the inning and two outs later shortstop Kramer Robertson smacked his third home run of the year to put the Cardinals back on top 6-5.
Top of the sixth inning, Naturals shortstop Taylor Featherston hit his first home run of the year to dead center field to tie the game at 6. That chased Cardinals starter Evan Kruczynski from the game after 5 1/3 innings, 6 earned runs, 3 walks and 8 strikeouts on 99 pitches.
In the bottom of the seventh, Johan Mieses reached on a throwing error by Naturals shortstop Featherston, then went to second on a single by Conner Capel. Mieses then scored on a single by Elehuris Montero while Capel was thrown out trying to get to third. Cards went ahead 7-6.
Then after a walk to Kramer Robertson with two out, Jose Godoy doubled to left center to drive home two runs and put the Cards up 9-6 after 7 innings.
In the top of the 8th inning, Taylor Featherston of the Naturals was hit by a pitch with one out. Anderson Miller singled moving Featherston to third. Cardinals then made a pitching change, bringing in Merandy Gonzalez to replace Will Latcham.
Gonzalez then walked Travis Jones to load the bases, then walked D.J. Burt to walk home a run. 9-7 Cardinals.
Khalil Lee then singled to center field to drive in Anderson Miller. 9-8.
Gabriel Cancel then hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Travis Jones from third and tied the game at 9.
Things just continued to go downhill for the Cardinals. In the top of the 9th, Meibrys Viloria was walked by Gonzalez. Gonzalez then threw two wild pitches to Taylor Featherston to allow Viloria to reach third base.
Featherston singled to center to drive in the go-ahead run, 10-9. Anderson Miller then singled to move up Featherston. After Dylan Carlson hit a sacrifice fly to move Featherston to third, Miller stole second before D.J. Burt singled to give the Naturals an 11-9 lead.
In the bottom of the 9th, Scott Hurst singled to lead off the inning and went to second when Kramer Robertson reached on an error by Naturals third baseman Emmanuel Rivera. Jose Godoy then hit a deep drive to center field that Nick Heath caught on the warning track, allowing the runners to advance.
Then the throw from the outfield was bobbled by Naturals shortstop Taylor Featherson, and Hurst took advantage of the error to score, cutting the lead to 11-10.
Irving Lopez then stepped to the plate and drove a fastball deep into the Springfield night, way over the right field wall for the 12-11 win.
The Cardinals snapped their franchise worst 7 game losing streak to start the season and improve to 1-7. They play the Naturals again tomorrow night at 7:10 p.m. with post-game fireworks.