The Arizona Fall League's third annual Rising Stars Showcase began with Braves prospect Tommy Hanson remaining the talk of the league. It ended with a literal walk-off as the National Division came from behind, almost blew it, then won, 7-6, in front of 2,765 fans on Friday night at Surprise Stadium.
Hanson has been the talk of the AFL for a number of reasons. Coming into the Rising Stars Showcase, an All-Star Game featuring Arizona's best prospects, he had tossed 8 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, walking three and striking out 14.
In his previous start on Oct. 18, the Braves right-hander tossed four hitless innings and struck out nine. He put up three more hitless frames here against a star-packed National Division lineup. Hanson struck out the side in the first two frames, then fanned one more in the third to give him seven strikeouts in three innings marred only by two walks in the first.
"In the first inning, I came out a little too excited, which is something I do," Hanson said. "But then I settled down and it was a lot of fun.
"I felt good with all of my pitches. I didn't even know I had struck out those guys in the first. I was just trying to attack hitters and it worked out that I struck them out. Since being here, I've felt really good. All of my pitches are coming along."
That could be music to the ears of the Braves, or perhaps the Padres. Hanson's name has been mentioned prominently in the Jake Peavy trade rumors and his performance here certainly hasn't hurt his stock.
"That's the last thing on my mind when I'm on the mound," Hanson said. "Once I'm out there, I'm just solely trying to get the hitters out. When I'm out on the mound, that's the last thing I'm worried about."
Hanson hasn't worried about much all season. He excelled at two levels, posting a 2.41 ERA and .175 opponents' batting average while striking out 163 in 138 innings. His AFL performance, he said, is just a continuation of what he did for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi.
"I've been trying to do the same things I did during the regular season," Hanson said. "They wanted me to throw my changeup a lot more, so I've been working that in. But at the same time, I've been trying to get hitters out. I've been trying to find a happy medium between those two things."
The National Division was happy to see Hanson go after three innings, but it didn't fare much better against lefty Sean West. The Marlins prospect struck out the side, giving American Division pitchers 10 strikeouts through four innings. The National Rising Stars finally got their first hit in the fifth but was staring at a 4-0 deficit, thanks to the American Division's four-run second off starter Phil Hughes (Yankees).
Padres outfielder Chad Huffman got the American Division on the board with a two-run homer, scoring Braves prospect Tyler Flowers. Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick hit his own two-run shot, with Casper Wells (Tigers) aboard, to make it 4-0.
The National team finally got on the board in the sixth when Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia homered off Cubs reliever Rocky Roquet. But the American side tacked on a run when Reddick doubled, stole third and scored when Indians infielder Beau Mills' grounder wasn't fielded cleanly by Pirates second baseman Shelby Ford.
The National Stars came to life in the bottom of the eighth, scoring five times to take an improbable 6-5 lead. They took advantage of three walks and a hit batter, packaged with three hits and a sacrifice fly.
The lead was short-lived as Brewers reliever Omar Aguilar couldn't shut the door. Ford singled, stole second, then moved to third on Astros outfielder Brian Bogusevic's groundout. One out later, Mets farmhand Josh Thole singled to left to tie the score at 6-6.
Then came the insanity of the bottom of the ninth. Tigers reliever Casey Fien came in for the American Division to try and do what Aguilar couldn't. Arencibia singled and moved to second on a base hit by Mills. Fellow Indians prospect Wes Hodges couldn't get a bunt down, then singled to left. Arencibia was waved around third and thrown out at the plate by the Angels' Chris Pettit.
After Royals outfielder Joe Dickerson was intentionally walked, Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs took a close 3-2 pitch to send the National Division home happy.
"In that situation, you want to get the win any way you can get it," Stubbs said. "It was a close pitch, but I think the umpire got it right."
The celebration that ensued made it easy to forget that this was really an all-star exhibition in an already laid-back developmental league. But put the best of the best on the field and chances are the competitive natures of these professionals are bound to come out.
"They told us to come in and compete, to make it a competitive game, and I think we did that," Stubbs said. "We carried a lot of energy throughout and you could see at the end, we were pretty fired up to win.
"It's a special experience for us all. There was a lot of high-caliber baseball and a lot of guys who can really play the game. It was a lot of fun."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.