Swarmed by a large group of fans requesting pictures and autographs, Joplin Blasters outfielder Willie Cabrera — obliging each request — was undoubtedly the most popular man in uniform following Joplin’s game against the Sioux Falls Canaries on Sunday at Joe Becker Stadium.
Driving in five runs, including a go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth inning might have had something to do with that.
Entering the day amongst the American Association’s leaders in runs batted in, Cabrera ended the day alone atop the leaderboard after his key two-run double in the fifth, and go-ahead blast over the bleachers in left, helped the Blasters erase a 7-1 deficit to beat Sioux Falls 9-7 and take the three-game series.
Winner’s of two in a row, Joplin (12-18) is idle today before starting a three-game set at Kansas City on Tuesday.
“It’s a good feeling. It’s something, hopefully, we can be proud of,” Cabrera said of the win as he finally began making his way to the clubhouse. “It’s definitely hard to do in this game. We went down early and just came together as a team, kept on fighting, kept on plugging away.”
The fans who showed up late Sunday missed plenty of action, as Sioux Falls climbed out to a 5-0 lead in the first — including four runs before Blasters starter Patrick Mincey could record an out. But those who chose to stay to the end got their money’s worth.
Much like the first game of the series on Friday, former Blaster Jake Taylor — who went 4-for-5 in the game — drove in the game’s first run before David Bergin’s three-run homer made it 4-0. Michael Pair continued the barrage of his former team later in the inning when he connected on his fourth home run in as many days — and third against Joplin — to make it 5-0.
Mincey gave up his third homer two innings later — the two-run shot by Ryan Lashley made it 7-1.
The Blasters, however, weren’t going away.
Geraldo Valentin drove in Oscar Mesa for the second time in the game in the third to make it 7-2 before Cabrera sparked a four-run fifth with a two-run double to right to make it 7-4.
After the Blasters loaded the bases later in the fifth, newcomer Bobby Webb — playing in his first game with the Blasters after being signed earlier in the day — pulled a double into the left field corner to drive in two more and cut it to 7-6.
“It felt really good,” said Webb, who joins the Blasters after hitting 14 home runs in 29 games this season for the Roswell Invaders of the PECOS League. “I had a couple of tough first (at-bats), but I got a good pitch to hit and I executed. I got the jitters out of the way once that hit came. It just felt really good to get a ‘W’.”
Down to their final strike in the eighth, Cabrera golfed a 2-2 pitch off Canaries southpaw Billy Waltrip to put the Blasters in front for good. Winston Abreu worked a scoreless ninth for his fourth save. To his credit, Mincey rebounded from the early misfortune and gave the Blasters six innings before Keith Picht, Victor Capellan (1-0) and Abreu worked scoreless innings to close it out.
Mesa also had a big day offensively for the Blasters, going 4-for-4 with three doubles and three runs scored.
“I feel good, but I feel better for my team than I do for me,” Mesa said. “Hopefully we can keep doing this, getting wins, because we need that.”
As the ebbs and flows of baseball would have it, Sunday’s win was the type of result that always seemed to go against the Blasters a week ago.
“Baseball’s a funny game,” Cabrera said. “You’re not going to be on a high all the time. There’s going to be ups and downs.
“It’s a big win. It can be a big momentum shift for us and that’s what we’re looking for — just everybody coming together and picking each other up. I’m happy for those guys in there. They battled their butts off.”