Ruben Sosa couldn’t catch up to the first two fastballs he saw from Justin Hancock on Sunday.
There was no doubt in his mind that another was coming from the Iowa reliever in a 0-2 count.
Sosa choked up, stayed with Hancock’s fastball away and delivered with a pinch-hit homer. The two-out, two-run shot to the opposite field in the bottom of the eighth inning that gave Omaha a 7-5 win.
“He saw I was super-late on the first two pitches,” Sosa said. “On the first pitch, I tried to check swing and I went through on fastball up. And then the next swing, I swung through.
“He was throwing hard. I knew he was going to throw me a fastball. He wasn’t going to mess up and throw me a breaking pitch.”
That was the third homer of the inning for the Storm Chasers, who pulled into a third-place tie with the I-Cubs in the American North standings heading into the final game of the year at Werner Park on Monday.
Jorge Soler led off the eighth with his second long ball of the night to cut the deficit to 5-4. Frank Schwindel followed with a 464-foot solo blast off reliever Brad Markey to even the score. Garin Cecchini reached on an error one out later. He was in scoring position with two outs as Sosa came to the plate.
Chasers manager Brian Poldberg turned to the switch-hitter after starting outfielder Corey Toups had struck out in his three previous plate appearances. Iowa countered by handing the ball to Hancock.
“Toups had struggled a little bit tonight,” Poldberg said. “We bring in a switch hitter and they didn’t have a lefty left in the bullpen. Even if he hits it on the ground, he can run so he’s got a chance to beat it out.”
Sosa hit it in the air to left with the wind blowing in that direction. The ball carried just beyond the wall.
“It’s always great to get a W and help your team,” he said. “Everybody here’s been working hard.”
The eighth-inning rally made a winner out of Omaha starter Christian Binford, who bounced back after surrendering a first-pitch bomb to John Andreoli to open the game to throw a season-high 110 pitches.
The Chasers were down 5-3 when Binford struck out Chesny Young to end the top of the eighth. The Omaha rally began when Soler homered after Iowa first baseman Chris Dominguez dropped a foul ball.
Three homers later, Binford was smiling as he left the field in front of 8,897.
“I loved it,” he said. “Three home runs in one inning? A pinch-hit home run? In front of this crowd? It was beautiful … a thing of beauty.”
Binford (7-10) allowed 10 hits, including a solo blast to former Creighton star Elliot Soto.
“Getting strike one, that was the big key,” he said. “And then figuring out what they wanted to do and kind of counter-act it. It took a couple of innings, but (catcher Brayan) Pena and I really stepped on a good game plan.
“I was just trying to keep the team in the game. That’s all I was really trying to do.”
Sosa’s shot was his second of the year.
Before the game, Schwindel and Eric Stout were named the hitter and pitcher of the year, respectively, for the Chasers. Schwindel was also given the fan favorite award while Raul Mondesi was honored as the Steve Pivovar prospect of the year. Binford took home the Johnny Rosenblatt community service award.