BRADENTON -- The 2014 Florida State League season is still in its infancy.
Yet Jordan Steranka looked around the Bradenton Marauders' clubhouse Tuesday night as it pulsated with music and chatty baseball players and marveled at how tight this new group of teammates had already become.
"I'm being honest. I've never been on a team with as good of chemistry this early," Steranka said.
The Marauders won their fourth game in a row in thrilling fashion Tuesday, scoring twice with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Palm Beach Cardinals 4-3 in front of 850 fans at McKechnie Field.
Development trumps results at the minor-league level, but the Marauders (4-1) were an excited bunch after Walker Gourley slid home with the winning run, sprinting to the middle of the diamond to mob Raul Fortunato, whose single -- and an error by Cardinals right-fielder Starlin Rodriguez -- produced Bradenton's first walk-off win of the year.
"I'm sure we're going to have a lot more games like this," Steranka said.
He's a big reason for the first one. Hitless in his first three at-bats, Steranka turned on a first-pitch offering from Palm Beach's Thomas Lee in the ninth and lined a game-tying home run off the boardwalk in right. It was the second home run of the year for Steranka, a Pittsburgh native and the designated hitter Tuesday who has nine hits in his first 19 at-bats.
"I'm seeing it well. Everything looks like a beach ball," he said. "Just trying to keep it simple: see the ball, hit the ball."
Gourley followed with a single and came around when Rodriguez bobbled Fortunato's hit.
"I was going hard all the way for him," said Gourley, referring to Tom Prince, Bradenton's manager and third-base coach, " so I could be in a position where he could send me. Obviously with the outfield bobble, we were in position to score that run."
The big ninth inning capped what had been a frustrating night for the Ma
rauders, who hit .348 during their first four games. Josh Bell led off the second inning with a triple but didn't score, and the Marauders left runners on second and third in the seventh.
They finally pushed runs across in the eighth on RBI groundouts by Jeff Roy and Jin-De Jhang. Gourley started the rally by drawing a four-pitch walk.
"Early in the game, we were struggling offensively," Gourley said. "And to see everyone stick with the at-bats and stay hard-headed to our approach for all nine innings and to come out on top is just the ultimate reward for the team."
Nearly two dozen Marauders were teammates last year with either the Pittsburgh Pirates' low Single-A team in West Virginia or the short-season New York-Penn League team in Jamestown, both of which made the playoffs.
It's way too early for anyone anywhere to start thinking about making the playoffs this year. But the camaraderie may have made its way down to Bradenton.
"I think we're a really strong team that's going to stick together," Gourley said, "and play for nine innings every night."