Playoff wins at Harry & David Field have not come easy for the Medford Rogues in their short history.
In fact, they have not come at all.
All that seemed destined to change Tuesday night as Medford took a 10-6 lead into the final inning but the Rogues simply couldn’t close the door against the visiting Portland Pickles in front of 1,098 on hand.
Portland scored an improbable six runs in its final at-bat and then kept Medford at bay after it loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth to steal a 12-10 triumph and extend their best-of-three series to a winner-take-all battle at 6:35 tonight at Harry & David Field.
In a game that featured threats of lightning stoppages, a few rain showers and high winds early on, the biggest natural disaster for the top-seeded Rogues (41-21) came in the ninth in unlikely fashion by fourth-seeded Portland (32-30).
Medford closer Taylor Frost hadn’t allowed a run in 18 innings this summer but just didn’t have anything go his way to start the ninth as Zander Clarke opened with a broken bat single up the middle and Matt Hardy made it safely to first when his flyball to left field was lost in the lights by Caleb Smith to give the Pickles hopes at a comeback.
After Frost, who may have been overthrowing a bit in the amped up situation, hit Matt Starcovic to load the bases, Tate Budnick ripped a two-run double past third baseman Davis Delorefice to cut Medford’s lead to 10-8 with no outs and runners on second and third.
Enter Jamie Flynn, who immediately induced a sacrifice fly to right field that made it 10-9. Daniel Lopez then tied the game at 10-all with a single to left-center and, after a flyout to right field, Alec Leighton supplied the game’s biggest hit with his two-run home run — his first of the summer — down the left field line.
Clay Valenzuela-Reece gave Medford some hope in the bottom of the ninth with his one out single and, with two outs, Johnny DeLaCruz’s blooper to no man’s land up the middle fell to the grass to put runners at the corners. Alex Isola then drew a walk to bring up Medford’s hottest hitter of the night in Jake Hellweg, but the right fielder went down swinging against Portland’s scheduled Game 3 starter Matt Hardy to close out a wild night at the ballpark that lasted 3 hours, 54 minutes.
In the other GWL series, Lincoln beat Chico 10-7 on Tuesday to even their series and force Game 3 today. The highest remaining seed of the two series winners will go on the road for a GWL Championship Series opener on Friday and then host the next two games, if necessary.
A leadoff double by Valenzuela-Reece allowed Medford to strike first, with Isola coming through with a clutch two-out single through the middle for a 1-0 edge.
The Rogues’ lead ballooned to 3-0 in the second when Jayden Hanna supplied his own heroics with a two-out RBI double to deep left-center field. Valenzuela-Reece followed with an RBI single of his own. Medford looked to keep it going moments later when Delorefice smacked a double off the left field fence but Portland’s Cooper ricocheted quickly off the fence and started a relay that caught Valenzuela-Reece at the plate for the third out.
An RBI double by Leighton got Portland on the board in the third but Medford answered with two runs of its own for a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the frame thanks to an RBI hit by Dante Gutierrez and passed ball that plated Isola.
Any appearances of Medford being able to cruise into the championship series, however, were dashed in the top of the fourth when a leadoff walk and hit batter set the stage for Cooper’s three-run homer after he had squared for sacrifice bunts on the first three pitches he saw but pulled back each time.
When Lopez doubled with the score at 5-4, Medford starter Scotty Wright came through with a key strikeout and gave way to D.J. Wilson, who got a flyout and strikeout to end the threat.
That’s when Hellweg and company came through with what seemed destined to be the most important scoring surge of the summer. Hits by Valenzuela-Reece and Delorefice and an intentional walk to Isola loaded the bases and set the stage for Hellweg, who came through with a hard shot past Clarke’s diving effort at first base for a two-run single that made it 7-4. An RBI fielder’s choice by Gutierrez made it 8-4 and put Medford clearly in the driver’s seat — until all went horribly wrong late.
Hardy’s solo homer in the fifth made it 8-5 but Lowrie drew a bases-loaded walk in the sixth to negate that effort.
In the eighth, Portland got to reliever Will Floyd with two walks and one hit before Aaron Hutchinson came on in relief with the bases loaded. Leighton singled to make it 9-6 but Lopez got a little greedy on a flyball to left field by Koty Fallon and was nabbed for leaving third base early for an inning-ending double play upon appeal.
In the bottom of the eighth, Hellweg blasted a leadoff homer to put Medford in great position to earn its first home playoff win in five seasons, but it just wasn’t to be on this night.
Hellweg finished 4-for-6 with one run and three RBIs, Valenzuela-Reece was 4-for-6 with two runs and one RBI, DeLaCruz 3-for-6 with two runs and Isola 2-for-3 with two runs and one RBI for Medford.
Jones, Walker (3), Webster (4), Mulcahy (7), Hardy (7) and Budnick; Wright, Wilson (4), Floyd (8), Hutchinson (8), Frost (9), Flynn (9) and Isola. W — Hardy. L — Flynn. 2B — P: Leighton, Lopez, Starcovic, Budnick; M: Valenzuela-Reece, Hanna, Delorefice 2. HR — P: Cooper (3), Hardy (12), Leighton (1); M: Hellweg (2).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry