Jack Lopez saved Omaha with an impromptu heads-up play in the top of the ninth inning.
Then he won the game for the Storm Chasers with a walk-off blast in the bottom of it.
Lopez ended a back-and-forth affair in which both teams rallied from four-run deficits when he sent the second pitch from New Orleans reliever Jumbo Diaz soaring down the left-field line for an 11-10 win.
Thursday’s game-winning blast at Werner Park led off the bottom half of an inning in which Lopez turned a bases-loaded double play to deny the Baby Cakes from scoring a go-ahead run in the top half.
The victory was Omaha’s third straight over New Orleans. Its series win was its first in three weeks.
The Chasers doused Lopez with cold water after the slugfest, which featured a combined 30 hits.
“If you’re a baseball player and these games don’t give you goose bumps, then I don’t know what you’re doing on the field,” he said. “I’ve got to give my team credit. We battled our (tails) off and here we are.”
Omaha trailed 5-1 entering the bottom of the fourth after Cito Culver and Jon Rodriguez hit home runs off Chasers starter Glenn Sparkman, who entered the game with a 0.69 ERA. The Chasers got back within a run, however, when Adalberto Mondesi doubled to the outfield wall with the bases full.
Ryan O’Hearn, Cam Gallagher and Humberto Arteaga homered in the fifth as Omaha moved in front 9-5. Paulo Orlando and Manny Olloque both doubled in that inning also as the Chasers tagged Dillon Peters.
But reliever Richard Lovelady couldn’t hold the lead for Omaha. Chad Wallach led off the sixth with a solo shot that sparked a New Orleans rally to reclaim the lead at 10-9.
The Chasers tied the game when Gallagher squeezed home Terrance Gore in the eighth.
Mike Broadway (3-0) was on the ropes in the top of the ninth after New Orleans got consecutive singles from Wallach, Rafael Ortega and Rodriguez to load the bases with one out.
Cristhian Adames rolled the next pitch at Lopez, who raced to second after a pause and threw to first.
“I was going to flip it to (Arteaga), but I noticed Artie wasn’t there so I did a little mini-sprint to second and was able to get it off to first,” the Omaha second baseman said. “I almost panicked for a little bit.”
Omaha’s infield was playing in with the left-handed Adames up. Arteaga, the shortstop, was too far from the bag to get there, so Lopez, who extended his right arm to flip, had to run to it himself.
His throw to first was just in time to get Adames. Lopez then won the game two pitches after that.
“You’ve got to do the little things to finally finish it right, and we were able to get the double play ball there,” Omaha manager Brian Poldberg said. “Gallagher makes the great safety squeeze to get the game tied. And for Jack to come up and get the home run right there, it was icing on the cake.”
Lopez had faced Diaz, whom he said has “big league stuff,” only twice previously but was ready for him.
“I knew he was going to bust me in with the wind blowing out,” he said.
Lopez kept his swing short, got the barrel to the ball and sent it sailing down the line at the foul pole. He stood in the batter’s box and watched as it carried beyond the fence, seeing the umpire signal it fair.
“I didn’t (know it was fair), that’s why I stayed at home,” Lopez said. “I don’t want them to think I disrespected him in any way. I just wanted to make sure it went fair so I could celebrate with my teammates.”