South Bend outfielder Eloy Jimenez showed why he is one of the Chicago Cubs' top prospects in Tuesday night's Midwest League All-Star Game, lining a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth inning which helped spur a come-from-behind 11-10 victory for the East.
It was the lone hit of the night in five at-bats for Jimenez, but it came at a key moment as his team faced a three-run deficit heading into the final inning and had trailed for much of the night. Jimenez's teammate Willi Castro (Lake County) singled home Jared Foster (Burlington) later in the inning to give the East its first lead of the game, and what would end up being the margin of victory.
"I was focused and being in the moment," said Jimenez, who also made a remarkable catch in left field in the bottom half of the inning to help preserve the lead. "I tried to hit a breaking ball or slider, something up, and hit through a slider. I hit it well and it went for a home run. It was an awesome moment, hitting a home run with two men on base."
In a game chalk full of promising pitching prospects, Jimenez was one of the few offensive standouts coming into the game after slashing .341/.379/.535 in the first half of the season. He entered Tuesday night's game the hottest he's been all season with 19 hits in his past 41 at-bats during a 10-game span.
Jimenez, who signed for $2.8 million as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, said he enjoyed getting to play in his first All-Star Game and feels it could catapult him to achieve even bigger things in the second half.
"It was a fun experience, celebrating with your friends and teammates," he said. "I met a lot more people here in Cedar Rapids, and am still pretty young in my career. Now I look forward to just playing hard like I did in the first half and try to make some improvements."
Until Jimenez's late-game heroics, the MWL's mid-summer classic was mostly about the bat work being done in the opposing dugout.
The top-third of the West team's batting order set the tone early in the high-scoring Midwest League affair, including Kane County designated hitter Trevor Mitsui who drove in three runs in his first two at-bats.
Arizona's 30th-round selection in the 2014 draft out of the University of Washington opened the scoring in the bottom of the first by lining a 1-2 pitch into the right-center gap for a double to plate a pair of Cedar Rapids all-stars, Luis Arraez and LaMonte Wade.
Mitsui continued to do damage his next time up, reaching on a fielders choice ground ball that scored Foster from third. It gave the West a 5-1 lead in the second inning.
Following Mitsui's first-inning double, Clinton's Dalton Kelly and Wisconsin's Jacob Gatewood each followed with RBI doubles to hand the West team a 4-0 lead before a single out was recorded.
The first-inning onslaught chased East starter J.C. Cosme (Fort Wayne) from the game after the pitcher faced just five batters. Fellow Fort Wayne staff mate Jacob Nix came on in relief and finally recorded the first out of the bottom of the first by getting an Isan Diaz (Wisconsin) ground out. Nix then induced a Max McDowell (Wisconsin) ground out, before getting a fly out from Zach Nehrir to end the inning to strand Kelly at second.
A pair of errors by West infielders in the second helped the East squad get one of those four runs back. Juan Kelly (Lansing) hit a soft ground ball to the right side of the infield and plated Francisco Mejia after pitcher Brennan Leitao mishandled an underhand toss at first base.
It didn't take long for the West to do even more damage. Foster lined a single to score Diaz, and would come around to score on Wade's two-run single that increased the lead to 8-1 after three innings.
Kelly and Donnie Dewees (South Bend) each recorded RBI singles, and Jake Cronenworth (Bowling Green) scored on a throwing error by Gatewood. Will Maddox (West Michigan) followed with a one-out two-run single to score Wade and Tyler Krieger (Lake County).
Quad Cities' Kevin McCanna, who came on in relief of Burlington's Jose Rodriguez (0.1 IP, 5 ERs, 2 Hs), finally stopped the bleeding by getting Jimenez to chase a breaking ball in the dirt to retire the side. But the damage was done during a marathon top of the fourth inning in which the East cut the defiit to 8-6.
Beloit's Boomer Biegalski came on to pitch the seventh for the West, but gave up a walk to DeWees and double to Brett Sullivan (Bowling Green) to put a pair of runners in scoring position. Jimenez followed with an RBI groundout before Biegalski settled down to retire Austin Allen (Fort Wayne) and Andrew Guillote (Lansing).
With his team's lead shrinking to one, Murray became the hometown hero and brought the Cedar Rapids crowd to its feet by lining a two-run homer to right field off South Bend reliever Aldbert Alzolay to put the West on top 10-7.
Wisconsin's Marcos Diplan came on for the ninth with a three-run lead, but was lifted after allowing singles to David Gonzalez (West Michigan) and DeWees. Clinton's Darin Gillies came on and allowed the three-run homer to Jimenez which knotted the game at 10-10.
The second half of the MWL season opens on Thursday night.