A circus catch you might see once in a season. A leaping catch at the fence to prevent a game-tying home run two batters after a two-run homer ignited the home crowd’s belief.
The Troggs, Queen and David Bowie.
Kentucky and Louisville staged a memorable and entertaining night of baseball Tuesday. The game got a fitting ending as Lexington native Devin Hairston got to play hero against his hometown school.
Hairston, a baseball star even before becoming an all-state shortstop for Tates Creek High School, singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. That capped a comeback in the final three innings and gave Louisville a 7-6 victory.
“It feels good, it feels good,” Hairston said in a voice that suggested he knew no one would believe otherwise. “I try to say it doesn’t feel a little bit sweeter. But I can say it does, especially with big brother in the dugout.”
Older brother Dorian Hairston, a senior for UK, did not get in the game.
Louisville, which improved its home record to 24-1 this season, trailed 5-1 going into the bottom of the seventh.
As if signaling that this rivalry is much more than another mid-week breather during Southeastern Conference play, Kentucky used all three of its weekend relievers to try to preserve the victory. Justin Lewis (0.37 earned run average), Sean Hjelle (0.71) and Zach Strecker (1.23) all struggled.
“To put up six runs against those three arms, those are quality arms,” U of L Coach Dan McDonnell said. “Our backs were against the wall. You know their strength is their bullpen.”
Lewis gave up a two-run homer to Corey Ray in the seventh inning that reduced UK’s lead to 5-4. Louisville nearly tied it two batters later when Brendan McKay sent a long fly to right that UK’s Marcus Carson, a 5-foot-8 junior, caught with a leap at the fence.
“Where was the wind when we needed it,” McDonnell quipped.
There was a much more astounding play in the third inning. After a leadoff double, Louisville’s Devin Mann blooped a ball to right. Second baseman Luke Becker and right fielder Tristan Pompey each called the ball, but neither caught it as they collided. A diving center fielder Storm Wilson caught the ball before it hit the ground.
How often had UK Coach Gary Henderson seen such a putout? “Oh, about once a decade,” he said.
Kentucky, 23-13, scored in the top of the eighth to take a 6-4 lead.
But Louisville countered with two runs in the bottom of the inning. That’s when the 1960s garage band The Troggs entered the picture. The public address system played the group’s most famous song, Wild Thing, as Hjelle (pronounced Jelly) took the mound with runners on second and third.
Hjelle made the person who picks music seem prophetic has he threw two wild pitches and walked a batter.
That set up the ninth inning dramatics.
With one out, a walk and an infield hit put a runner in scoring position. Henderson called on Strecker, who had given up three earned runs all season. As he warmed up, the song Pressure by Queen and David Bowie played on the sound system.
As Hairston approached the plate, McDonnell felt good. “You trust him,” the U of L coach said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s got to be the smallest four-hole hitter in the country (Hairston is 5-11). But he hits there because he’s going to move the ball. He’s an RBI type of guy.”
Hairston hit the first pitch he saw back up the middle and into center field to drive in the winning run.
“I said, if he throws me a fastball first pitch, I’m going to do something with it,” Hairston said.
Arkansas at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)