Of all the things to happen in a baseball season, inside-the-park home runs by pitchers might be the rarest events of all.
Never in Albuquerque Isotopes history had a pitcher accomplished such a feat until Blake Johnson pulled it off in a 13-7 victory over the visiting Memphis Redbirds on Tuesday night.
After Alfredo Amezaga’s two-run double put Albuquerque (14-11) ahead in the fourth inning, Johnson stepped to the plate and hit a line drive to center field. Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras made a diving attempt, but the ball bounced by him and rolled up the center field hill, eventually coming to a stop at the top.
Johnson kept running all the way around and beat the eventual throw home by several steps.
“Taveras came very close to catching that ball,” Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy said. “I don’t think he missed it by very much. But once he dove for it and it went up that hill, it was a long way for him to travel to go get it.”
The home run did have its consequences, however. Johnson had some trouble with his left hamstring and ended up surrendering a three-run homer to Jamie Romak in the sixth inning that brought Memphis (13-11) back into the game.
“I think it probably caught up to him one inning later,” Bundy said. “I was worried about the (fifth) inning when he went out. He was able to get through that inning but in the sixth inning he ran into some trouble.”
Bundy said Johnson may have “cramped up a little bit.”
“He didn’t say anything until after the damage was done,” Bundy added.
Johnson went five-plus innings, allowing three runs on six hits and one walk. He struck out five and earned himself a long ice bath after the game.
“He threw the ball really well,” catcher Tim Federowicz said. “We had a pretty good scouting report on these guys. He was sticking with it, putting the balls where he needed to.”
The Redbirds eventually came back to take the lead in the seventh inning on a two-run homer by Chad Huffman and a solo shot by Travis Tartamella that made it 7-5.
The Isotopes responded in their half of the inning as Elian Herrera and Matt Angle led off with back-to-back singles. Federowicz would pick up an RBI single two batters later, followed by Rusty Ryal’s game-tying RBI double to right field.
Memphis opted to intentionally walk Brian Barden to load the bases, but Alfredo Amezaga followed with a sacrifice fly to put Albuquerque ahead 8-7. Chili Buss then picked up some big insurance runs with a pinch-hit, three-run homer to center field off Keith Butler (0-1).
“I was fortunate enough that he left a changeup up in the top of the zone and I was able to get good wood on it,” Buss said.
Federowicz, who went 4-for-5 with four RBI, added a two-run homer in the eighth to pad the lead.
“Coming down here I was a little upset but I wasn’t going to let it affect my play,” Federowicz said. “I was going to make sure I came down and make sure I was locked in every at-bat.”
The Isotopes will look to clinch the series against the Redbirds on Wednesday at 6:35 p.m.