Pitcher delivers in the clutch
Justin Hoyman got a strikeout with the bases loaded to keep the Scrappers' lead.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
TROY, N.Y. -- Justin Hoyman's first professional victory didn't come without a strong wave of adversity in Game 2 of the New York-Penn League championship series.
In the fifth inning Monday at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers' pitcher was surrounded by Tri-City ValleyCats and 2,700 opposing fans.
With the bases loaded and Ben Zobrist, the league's top hitter at the plate, Hoyman stared in at catcher Wyatt Toregas with his team's fate hanging in the balance.
Fans stood, and their cheers grew increasingly louder.
Not backing down
"If he was going to get it, I was going to make him earn it," said Hoyman, the Cleveland Indians' second-round draft pick from the University of Florida. "I just tried to throw it in there, and it turned out to be a great pitch."
On a full-count delivery, Hoyman blew a fastball past a swinging Zobrist to end the inning and preserve the Scrappers' 1-0 lead, which they turned into a 4-2 championship victory.
"I just threw a four-seam fastball and said, 'Here, if you can hit it, hit it. I don't really have any choice at this point,' " Hoyman said.
Scrappers manager Mike Sarbaugh called Hoyman's strikeout the biggest play of the game.
"Turns out, it was a huge momentum builder for us and we came back and put a three-spot on the board," Hoyman said. "It seemed like from that point on, the game turned around for us and fell into place."
The Scrappers scored three runs in the sixth inning for a 4-0 lead that Tri-City couldn't overcome. That run support also helped Hoyman capture his first pro win.
"My approach was to try to make it like any other game," Hoyman said. "It wasn't do or die for us. Finding a way to win [Sunday night in Game 1] really took a lot of pressure off because [Monday] wasn't a must-win situation."
Taking small steps
Hoyman, 22, started five games for the Scrappers during the regular season, encompassing 13 innings, as the Indians kept their prospect on a limited pitch count.
"Every start I seemed to build a little bit," Hoyman said, "but I haven't been sharp until my last couple of outings."
That included Game 1 of the league semifinal series against Auburn last week when he limited the Doubledays to one run in five innings -- at that point, the deepest he had worked into a game.
"My first few starts I was just living off my fastball, and I really wasn't spotting it," Hoyman said. "The last few outings I've been able to get inside of guys and break a few bats."
As Hoyman admits, that's his style.
"The statistics don't lie -- I'm not a big strikeout guy. I never was and I probably never will be," he said. "I just like to go right at guys, have them put it in play and let the defense work. For me that's a successful plan because you just let guys get themselves out."
While Hoyman reflected on his performance, his teammates roared in the clubhouse behind him.
"I had a notion that coming to professional baseball, it would be more of an individual-type thing, but it was unbelievable how these guys jelled in the last few weeks," he said.
For Hoyman, it was the pinnacle of his baseball career -- winning a league championship and pitching the best game of his young pro career.
"It couldn't have come on a better day," he said.