Four has been the magic number for the Rochester Honkers. Only three times this season have the Honkers scored four runs and lost — which means that of their 19 losses, 16 have been when Rochester scored three runs or less.
On Sunday against Thunder Bay, Ryan Ober made sure the Honkers got to four runs, and he did it with one swing. His grand slam in the fifth inning broke a 1-1 tie and carried the Honkers to a 5-2 win.
"I was a little frustrated after my first two at-bats, so I was just trying to get a ball over the plate and go up the middle," Ober said. "I was a little out in front on the homer, but I caught it pretty good."
That's an understatement. His game-winning blast off a change-up was a no-doubter, a towering shot that was conservatively estimated at 385 feet — and it was a badly-needed hit for a Rochester team that ranks 19th in runs scored in the 22-team Northwoods League. And that's despite playing half their games in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league.
If the Honkers are to make a run at a playoff berth and a possible championship, their bats will need to come alive.
Rochester manager Thomas Walker knows that, but he said he won't ask his guys to make any dramatic adjustments at the plate.
"We're going to keep sticking with our approach," he said. "Our approach is to try to do damage, even when we're on the road. We're looking to hit doubles, triples and home runs. I'm not going to shy away from that. I don't like to bunt. I like to swing the bat, and that's the kind of team we have. We just need to be hunting the right pitch and show discipline at the plate."
Walker also has a theory as to why his team has struggled of late to get the big hit with runners in scoring position.
"A lot of guys were pressing toward the end of the first half," he said. "Everyone wants to impress, everyone wants to make themselves a mainstay in the lineup, but really, it's about controlling what we can control. We can't let the umpire affect us, can't guess what's coming. We just have to take our at-bats pitch-by-pitch, and we need to focus on doing that down the stretch."
Ober's blast made a winner out of starting pitcher Dwayne Marshall, who yielded just three hits and one run in five innings while piling up nine strikeouts.
"Dwayne's fastball was really working today," Walker said. "He was up, he was down, he was in, he was out, and then his curve ball really plays well off of that. When he has fastball command in all four quadrants, he's really tough to hit."
Rochester closer Keon Taylor came on with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and ended the game with a strikeout to earn his sixth save.
The Honkers and Border Cats square off again on Monday at Mayo Field, with first pitch slated for 6:35.
Honkers 5, Border Cats 2
Thunder Bay: Engel 1-for-5, R; Galati 1-for-3; Edmondson 1-for-4, R, RBI; Allard 1-for-5; Hernandez 1-for-4, R; Grilli 1-for-4; Newton 1-for-2. Pitchers: Breazeale (LP) 5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 Er, 2 BB, 2 K; DePiero 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 K.
Rochester: Armstrong 1-for-4, RBI; Peterson 2-for-4, R; Wrobleski 1-for 2, R; Zalesky 1 R; Ober 1-for-4, HR, 4 RBI; Miller 1-for-4, R; Tosti 1-for-3. Pitchers: Marshall (WP) 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9K; Nissen 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 K; Bisogno 1 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K; Taylor (S) 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 K.