It ain’t over ’til it’s over: Best walk-off wins by Reno Aces

Never leave a Reno Aces game early.

If there is one thing we’ve learned after enjoying Triple-A baseball in Northern Nevada for the past 11 springs and summers, it is to remain in the ballpark until the final out.

The last time we saw the Aces at Greater Nevada Field, in the final home game of the 2019 season, Kevin Cron singled in Abraham Almonte in the bottom of the 10th inning to finish off a thrilling three-run rally and a 10-9 win over Salt Lake City on Aug. 25.

It was the 63rd walk-off victory for the Aces since the franchise’s first season at Reno in 2009. That’s an average of almost six walk-offs a year and one for every dozen or so home games over 11 seasons. Not even Hollywood writes more memorable and surprise endings than the Aces.

The Aces, whose 2020 season opener April 9 at Greater Nevada Field was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak, have made a specialty out of leaving fans breathless and emotionally spent as they leave the ballpark. The Aces have been downtown Reno’s greatest show with more surprise endings since Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis used to perform on Virginia Street.

Some of the 63 walk-off wins are still too improbable to believe they actually happened.

There have been 18 walk-off homers in Aces history, four (Cody Ransom, Peter O’Brien, Andrew Aplin, Ed Easley) of which have been grand slams. Just last season the Aces rallied from an eight-run ninth-inning deficit. Another time it was four homers in the ninth to overcome a four-run deficit.

One time the Aces won a game by getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. They won a game when a runner scored from second on a wild pitch. Another time it was with a Jack Buck I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw sacrifice fly to the shortstop. And talk about the ultimate Hollywood ending. Last year an Aces player drilled a walk-off homer in the middle of the season and then announced his retirement right after the game.

The first Aces’ walk-off win, on May 1, 2009, came on a bases-loaded walk by Augustin Murillo to beat Portland in 11 innings. Down five runs with two outs and just one runner on base, the Aces erupted for six runs for an unforgettable win in 2010. Another time the Aces scored nine times in the ninth to wipe out an eight-run deficit. The Aces even won three consecutive games in walk-off fashion in 2012 against the city (Tucson) that lost the Aces to Reno in 2009.

Reno is the city that never turns out the lights and never gives away a baseball game without a fight. And the Aces take that never-say-die flair for the dramatic with them when they get promoted to the major leagues’ Arizona Diamondbacks. Just last season, for example, former Reno Aces player Tim Locastro won three walk-off games for the Diamondbacks with game-winning singles. Another former Aces player, Ildemaro Vargas, tied a Diamondbacks’ game in the ninth last year with a homer against the St. Louis Cardinals and then won it with a walk-off single in the 19th inning. Former Aces shortstop Nick Ahmed scored three walk-off runs last year for the Diamondbacks. One of those runs came on a single by former Aces player Ketel Marte.

Three of the Aces’ 63 walk-off wins came on first-pitch homers. But all 63 have been water cooler moments the next day at work as in, “did you hear what the Aces did last night?”

Well, in case you haven’t heard, here (in chronological order) are 10 of the most dramatic Aces walk-off victories in downtown Reno over the past 11 unforgettable seasons.

June 12, 2009

Salt Lake scored twice in the top of the 11th inning to take a 4-2 lead. The Bees jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run homer by Brandon Wood off Aces’ starter Seth Etherton but Etherton (six innings) and relievers Jason Urquidez (two innings) and Leo Rosales (two innings) held Salt Lake scoreless until the 11th. The only Aces’ runs through 10 innings came on bases-loaded walks to Bryan Byrne in the second inning and John Hester in the seventh. Salt Lake’s Matthew Brown and Jean Segura both doubled in a two-run 11th inning off Aces reliever Jose Marte as the Bees’ seemingly took control of the game. Salt Lake reliever Jeremy Hill, who entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, then allowed one-out singles by Ed Rogers and Alex Romero in the bottom of the 11th. Hill, though, got Hester to ground out (scoring Rogers) for the second out. He then walked Tony Clark on five pitches and his first pitch to Chris Roberson was a called strike. Roberson, though, hit Hill’s second pitch over the fence in right for a three-run homer and the first Aces’ walk-off homer in history.

April 25, 2010
The Aces gave up five runs in the top of the 10th to trail Colorado Springs 10-5. That was still the score with two outs and a runner (Yunesky Sanchez) on second in the bottom of the 10th. Three batters later, however, it was suddenly 10-9 as Carlos Corporan and Chris Rahl singled and Doug Deeds slammed a three-run homer off Matt White. Juan Rincon then replaced White and promptly walked pinch-hitter Sean Coughlin. Up stepped 31-year-old Jeff Bailey, who had hit six home runs in parts of three seasons for the Boston Red Sox. Bailey clobbered Rincon’s seventh pitch over the wall in left field for a two-run homer and a dramatic victory.

June 22, 2010
This time the Aces were down 6-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth against Colorado Springs. Sky Sox starter Chaz Roe, who would save seven games for the Aces in 2013 and go on to pitch in 141 games for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2017-19, gave the Aces just two runs on four hits through the first eight innings. Roe whiffed the Aces’ Brandon Allen to start the ninth but was lifted from the game after Ryan Roberts reached on an error and Pedro Ciriaco singled. Nick Bierbrodt then gave up a single to Carlos Corporan to load the bases. Ed Rogers then singled in a run. Damian Moss then replaced Bierbrodt and surrendered a two-run double to pinch-hitter John Hester to cut the Sky Sox lead to just 6-5. Yunesky Sanchez, who beat Fresno in the 2010 season opener with a walk-off RBI single and did it again to Omaha five weeks later, then pinch-hit for Doug Deeds. Sanchez drilled a 2-1 pitch from Moss over the left-field wall for three runs and his third walk-off hit in the first three months of the 2010 season.

April 17, 2013
The first four Sky Sox hitters in the batting order were future major leaguers Corey Dickerson, D.J. LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. Arenado drilled a homer off Aces reliever Eddie Bonine in the seventh inning. Dickerson homered in the first, LeMahieu had two hits and scored two runs and Blackmon drove in a run with a single and also had a sacrifice fly as the Sky Sox built a 7-0 lead by the seventh inning. Chris Owings got the Aces on the board with a solo homer in the seventh. Evan Frey tripled in a run and scored and Brad Snyder drove in a run with a single in the eighth but the Aces still trailed 7-4 heading to the bottom of the ninth. Ed Easley greeted Sky Sox reliever Mike McClendon with a single in the ninth and McClendon then walked Tyler Bortnick and Evan Frey to load the bases. Taylor Harbin drilled a two-run single and Chris Owings reached base when LeMahieu made an error at short. McClendon finally got an out, striking out Kila Ka’aihue, but Matt Davidson hit the second pitch he saw for a two-run single to Dickerson in left for the game-winner.

May 12, 2013
The Aces had lost three games in a row and found themselves down 6-1 in the fourth inning to the Iowa Cubs. Iowa still led 8-5 in the eighth. Aces first baseman Kila Ka’aihue, who played parts of three seasons with the Kansas City Royals and one (2012) with the Oakland A’s, then pulled the Aces to within 8-6 with a solo homer off Hisanori Takahashi in the eighth. That’s where it stood in the bottom of the ninth with former Chicago Cub Rafael Dolis on the mound for Iowa. Dolis, though, walked the Aces’ Ed Easley to start the bottom of the ninth and then threw a wild pitch to put Easley on second. Dolis struck out Tyler Kuhn for the first out but then allowed an RBI single by Evan Frey. Dolis was then lifted for Blake Parker. Frey, the tying run, then stole second but Parker got Chris Owings to fly out for the second out. That brought up Ka’aihue. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Ka’aihue sent a 2-1 pitch from Parker over the right-field fence for his second homer of the game to give the Aces a win.

May 1, 2016
It was arguably the best-pitched game in the history of Triple-A baseball in Reno. The park had just been named Greater Nevada Field (from Aces Ballpark) to start the 2016 season as the Aces and Isotopes took a scoreless game to the 12th inning. Braden Shipley started for the Aces and pitched six shutout innings and his relief (Dominic Leone, Silvino Bracho, Evan Marshall and Matt Capps) kept Albuquerque scoreless through 12 innings. The Isotopes did leave 11 runners on base, thanks to eight hits and five Aces walks. Three Isotopes pitchers (Jeff Hoffman, Jason Gurka and Ryan Arrowood) did not walk a hitter the entire game and allowed just seven hits. But the game’s best scoring opportunity belonged to the Aces in the seventh when Peter O’Brien tripled with one out in the seventh. Kyle Jensen, though, struck out and Zach Borenstein flied out to center to end the threat. O’Brien walked up to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th against Arrowood with the game still tied 0-0. Arrowood, who pitched a scoreless 10th and 11th innings on 30 pitches, threw one pitch in the 12th inning. O’Brien sent it high over the fence in left-center to win the game 1-0.

June 1, 2016
Peter O’Brien sure knew how to start a month off right for the Aces. He did it on May 1, 2016 and a month later he did it again. The Aces, though, trailed Las Vegas 6-3 going to the bottom of the ninth after tying the game 3-3 on a three-run homer by Kyle Jensen in the fourth. The Las Vegas 51s’ Josh Smoker got the Aces’ Ed Lucas to fly out to open the bottom of the ninth. Jack Reinheimer, though, then singled off Smoker and Tuffy Gosewisch drilled a ground-rule double over the right-center field fence. Smoker then walked pinch-hitter Sean Jamieson to load the bases. Smoker was replaced by Paul Sewald who promptly walked Todd Glaesmann on four pitches to force in a run. The 51s, though, were one out away from a victory after Sewald fanned Mike Freeman for the second out. That out never came. O’Brien sent the first pitch he saw from Sewald over the right-field fence for a grand slam and his 13th homer and 39th RBI of the young season.

May 13, 2017
The Aces trailed New Orleans 10-4 heading to the bottom of the ninth. Baby Cakes’ reliever Clayton Mortensen, though, started the bottom of the ninth by walking Kristopher Negron, Ildemaro Vargas and Zach Borenstein with one out. Mortensen was removed for Javy Guerra and Christian Walker greeted Guerra with a two-run single. Guerra then walked Jeremy Hazelbaker and pinch-hitter Ronnie Freeman to force in another run. Rey Fuentes singled to right for two runs, cutting the deficit to 10-9. Hunter Cervenka replaced Guerra and allowed a sacrifice fly to center from Hank Conger to tie the game. Cervenka got Negron to ground out to end the inning and send the game to extra innings. The game was still tied heading to the bottom of the 12th inning. Vargas drilled a one-out double off Baby Cakes reliever Victor Payano as the game was now over four hours old. Payano, though, fanned Ketel Marte for the second out, bringing up Borenstein. Borenstein then watched Payano’s first pitch bounce past catcher Carlos Paulino for a wild pitch as Vargas took off from second. Vargas never stopped. The Aces’ infielder kept on coming and stunned everyone by scoring from second to mercifully end the game that lasted 4:36.

April 27, 2019
If you were at Greater Nevada Field on this date you witnessed one of the most unbelievable walk-off victories in baseball history. The Aces trailed Fresno 12-2 in the fourth inning and it was still 13-5 heading to the bottom of the ninth. Eight of the nine Fresno starters (all but pitcher Kyle McGowin) had two or more hits. Fresno reliever Jordan Mills, a left-hander, then walked left-handed pinch-hitter Andrew Aplin, hitting .093 (5-for-54) at the time, on four pitches to open the bottom of the ninth. The Grizzlies then allowed Aplin to stroll to second on defensive indifference. Mills then gave up a run-scoring single by Tim Locastro but did get Domingo Leyba to ground out for the first out. Kevin Cron followed with an RBI single and Yasmany Tomas singled him to second. Travis Snider doubled home Cron and Tyler Heineman singled in Tomas. Fresno, though, still led 13-9 with one out and two runners on base. Tanner Rainey then replaced Mills. Wyatt Mathisen singled to left to score Snider. Kelby Tomlinson then coaxed a walk to load the bases. Aplin, who spent the first eight innings on the bench, was now stepping to the plate for the second time in the ninth as the potential winning run. The first pitch from Rainey was a called strike. Aplin then swung through the second pitch for an 0-2 count. He fouled off the third pitch. The fourth pitch ended up on the grass beyond the right field fence off Aplin’s bat and the Aces had one of the most improbable victories in recent memory. Reno scored nine runs in the bottom of the ninth on seven hits and two walks (and 36 pitches). Mills was sent to Double-A Harrisburg a week later by the Washington Nationals. Rainey was promoted to the Nationals three weeks later and would pitch in 52 games for the eventual World Series champions last year. Aplin went on the injured list three days later and was eventually released by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the middle of May, finishing his Aces season with a .205 average in 78 at-bats.

July 5, 2019
Cody Decker was 32-years-old and a veteran of 1,033 minor league and eight major league games (with the San Diego Padres in 2015) when he walked to the plate in the ninth inning. Decker fouled off the first pitch he saw from River Cats reliever Jandel Gustave as the Aces trailed 9-8 with one out and a runner on first. Gustave’s second pitch to Decker seemed headed just below the knees and on the outside corner. Decker jumped on it and the ball exploded off his bat and landed on the railroad tracks out beyond the left-center field fence for an Aces’ victory. Decker threw his right first into the air as he approached second. A big smile came across his face as he headed to third. Third base coach (and manager) Greg Gross slapped Decker’s right hand as he rounded third. Decker then slammed his helmet to the ground as he headed to the plate where he was mobbed by his teammates and Archie, the Aces’ mascot. It was Decker’s minor-league leading (for active players at the time) 204th career home run. It would also be his last. Gustave would go on to pitch in 23 games for the San Francisco Giants in 2019. Decker, who was a 22nd-round draft pick by the Padres in 2009 out of UCLA, announced his retirement in the post-game locker room. “If I was writing a movie that’s the way I would want to end it,” Decker said after the game.


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