BRADENTON -- Barrett Barnes was only minutes removed from saving the game for the Bradenton Marauders for a second time when he put the first pieces in place for their 11th-inning win against the Brevard County Manatees.
After launching his second homer in as many days to tie the game in the eighth inning and denying Brevard County the go-ahead run with his glove in the top of the 11th, he came to the plate as the lead-off man in the bottom of the frame. He waited only two pitches to put his first swing on the ball and knock it into right field. Two batters and two Brevard miscommunications later, Barnes was running into the throes of a celebration for a 4-3, walk-off win at home plate.
"That's probably the best way to win, the most exciting way to win," Barnes said, "but also the most stressful way to win."
When Bradenton (35-39) trailed by two runs with five outs to go, Barnes launched the game-tying home run, which let the Pittsburgh Pirates' Single-A Advanced affiliate take the game into extra innings. When the Manatees (30-42) had a runner in scoring position during the 11th inning and a blooper was tumbling toward the outfield, Barnes made the catch to keep the score tied. And when Bradenton came to bat moments later, Barnes started the rally that won the second game of the four-game series.
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"It just shows you the type of player that he can be. Players like that, they can take a game over," manager Michael Ryan said. "When he wants, he can be the best player on the field any given day."
In the eighth inning, Bradenton was on the verge of squandering another strong start from Jayson Aquino. In six innings after a 33-minute rain delay, the starting pitcher held Brevard County to two earned runs while striking out five. The only bit of run support he got was a solo home run by catcher Jin-De Jhang -- his first of the season.
Barnes came to the plate in the eighth with one out, and Justin Maffei, who had just replaced JaCoby Jones for disciplinary reasons, on first base. The outfielder went after the first pitch and sent it deep into center field. The ball started to carry through the June air above McKechnie Field and eventually it was over the fence and in front of the center-field batter's eye to tie the game at 3.
"We call it 'getting your man strength' in the locker room," Barnes said. "When you get your man strength, that's when you start hitting balls out of the park."
After both sides went down in order in the ninth, the 1,478 at McKechnie got to watch free baseball. Relief pitcher Isaac Sanchez (2-2) took the mound for the Marauders in the 10th and worked around a single and hit batter for a scoreless frame.
An inning later, he was in trouble again. With one out and the bases empty, he plunked another batter and threw a wild pitch to move outfielder Jose Pena to second. The next batter flew out to Barnes and brought Steven Halcomb to the plate.
The shortstop popped another ball in the air toward left field. Chris Diaz ran out from short. Austin Meadows charged in from center. Barnes called them both off and dived in from left to end the inning and keep Bradenton tied.
"He showed all of his skills and tools today," Ryan said.
Barnes was the next batter for the Marauders, and he started the bottom of the 11th with a single off reliever Mark Williams. A passed ball moved Barnes to second and a bunt by second baseman Erich Weiss died between catcher Rafael Neda, third baseman Taylor Brennan and Williams (0-3) to put runners on the corners with no outs.
It gave outfielder Harold Ramirez the chance to be the final hero. He rocketed a fly ball out to center and over Omar Garcia's head. Weiss barely moved beyond second base while Barnes trotted into a mob awaiting him at home to celebrate Bradenton's second walk-off win of the year and a 3-1 start to the second half of the season.
"We were a lot more up and down when the season first started compared to where we are today," Barnes said. "Coming back to win that game, we might not have done that earlier in the year."