Jared McKenzie walks off the Cyclones to give the Blue Rocks their first series win of the year

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Jared McKenzie rounds first after his walk-off homer. McKenzie hit a two-run walk-off in the bottom of the ninth. - Saturday, April 6, 2024. - Photo via Joe Capuyan

Jared McKenzie blasted a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth as the Wilmington Blue Rocks rallied back from a two-run deficit to secure an exuberating 4-2 win in game two of their three-game series against the Brooklyn Cyclones on Saturday, April 6.  

The game started as a pitching duel between Blue Rocks’ starter Brad Lord and Cyclones’ lefty Felipe De La Cruz. There were no hits on either side until the bottom of the fourth when first baseman T.J. White laced a single between the shortstop and third baseman to get the Rocks into the hit column.

Lord, overall, had a strange performance on the bump. He didn’t give up a single hit but left the game in the top of the fifth inning after dishing out six walks, beaming a batter, and striking out three.  

“Not very pleased with it,” Lord said about his command. “Six walks, that’s not very good. Obviously, I want to get better at that, just gotta work on it for next week’s start.”

Lord departed giving up two runs, neither of which were earned runs due to errors that let runners score once he was out of the contest.  Through the walks, he was able to force soft contact, leading to multiple double plays and clutch outs to keep the Blue Rocks in it early.  

“Huge part on the defense for that,” Lord said. “They were behind me today, and they picked me up when I was walking some guys.”  

The Blue Rocks couldn’t get anything going against De La Cruz, as he allowed just one hit in four scoreless innings of work. The positive is that they were able to push him out of the game early and get into the Cyclones’ bullpen.   

“He was having his way a little bit,” third baseman Murphy Stehly said. “He’s got a good fastball and good stuff, that’s why he’s a starter. We were able to get into their bullpen early so maybe we were able to take advantage of that.” 

Stehly broke the cold spell in the sixth and supplied Wilmington with their first two runs of the game after a two-run single with the bases loaded to even the score at two apiece.  

“I was obviously a little out in front on the sliders,” Stehly said. “But thankfully he threw a fastball, and I was able to get on it. I try to stay on the fastball, that’s my approach, so I was able to do so there.”  

After Stehly’s big hit, the momentum swung, bringing the Blue Rocks right back in it and forcing the Cyclones to dig deeper into their bullpen.  

“I think earlier in the year, all we want to do is see how many guys we can get out of the bullpen,” McKenzie said. “It just helps us, as we know we’re going to play them a few more times throughout the year. We were able to see what they have, what their arms are as much as we can early, that way we get more familiar and go from there.”  

Sometimes it only takes one swing to start something special, and that’s exactly what Stehly provided in the sixth.

“Today was a little bit slow in the beginning offensively and also pitching too,” manager Mario Lisson said. “It’s baseball, and we got a little break in the sixth inning, a couple runs in there.”

The game remained tied until the ninth, as the Blue Rocks bullpen would put in five fine innings of work.  In the bottom of the ninth, it was time for someone to play hero. After what seemed to be a crushing double play to start the inning, second baseman Sammy Infante drew a six-pitch walk to keep the inning alive.   

“That walk by Infante,” Lisson said. “You know, sometimes we all try to be heroes, but it’s that walk, it’s that five to seven to ten-pitch at-bat that gets you going, and today was proof of that.”

Next up was McKenzie with a chance to keep the lineup rolling or end it with one big swing. Before you could blink on the first pitch, McKenzie launched a breaking ball from Cyclones’ reliever Ben Simon over the right field wall. It got out in a hurry, leaving the bat at 104.5 mph.

“Honestly, I was trying to hit a line drive up the middle,” McKenzie said. “I got my head out on a breaking ball. Murph made a great play the inning before to pass the bat, he gave a chance to score a run, just one to win it there at the end.”  

Now with the series win under their belt and a chance for the sweep tomorrow, the Rocks are hoping the momentum from this win can carry them forward. 

“Yeah, I mean it’s super early, we got 130 or something left,” McKenzie said. “But definitely good vibes in the clubhouse with everybody. It gives us a little more confidence on the bump when you can trust guys with the bat to get it done, and it took us the last four innings to get it done, but we got it done, so thanks to the pitching for keeping us in it.”

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