Needing a victory Wednesday night to stay alive in the Arizona Fall League East Division race, Salt River entered the ninth inning tied with Scottsdale. Winning isn't always the primary objective in the AFL, but with their season hanging in the balance, the Rafters were going for it.
Cristhian Adames led off the inning with a double. Jake Lamb followed with a pinch-hit double and Adames raced home when second baseman Addison Maruszak committed an error on the relay throw. The Rafters added two insurance runs and right-hander Matt Stites threw a scoreless ninth to save the 8-5 victory. They would remain in the division race for the season's final day.
Salt River goes into Thursday trailing Mesa by a half-game in the East Division. To win the division, Salt River will need to defeat Scottsdale and for Glendale to beat Mesa. Surprise has already won the West Division and will face the East Division winner in Saturday's AFL championship game.
Right fielder Stephen Piscotty said the Rafters know they need help to win the division, but are just focused on what they control.
"We're on a good streak here," he said. "We'll try to finish strong and come out with win. If you do that, you've done everything you could have."
Piscotty did his part in Wednesday's victory. The Cardinals' No. 7 prospect went 4-for-5 with two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. He was the only Rafter with multiple hits in the game.
But Piscotty said it took a team effort to hold off the Scorpions. After playing much of the fall with player development goals dictating in-game decisions, Salt River manager Mike Shildt played to win Wednesday. He used two pinch-runners, a pinch-hitter and his backup catcher.
Piscotty said the intensity of the game was noticeably higher.
"It felt like a playoff game," he said. "There were pinch-runners all night and different catchers. It was playoff baseball. It was fun to be a part of."
While the game held extra importance for Salt River, Scottsdale has no championship hopes of its own. It is mired in last place and on a six-game losing streak.
But the Scorpions took the Rafters to the brink. They scored four runs in the fourth inning to take the lead and chase Rafters starter Bo Schultz. He had entered the night with a 2.22 ERA in 28 1/3 innings this fall. He had pitched five innings in all but his first start of the season. Wednesday, however, Schultz allowed four runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Center fielder Mason Williams, ranked No. 36 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, led the Scorpions offense. The Yankees' farmhand went 3-for-5 with two runs and a stolen base. Designated hitter Andrew Susac, the Giants' No. 15 prospect, went 2-for-4 with a run.
The Scorpions were unable to score against the Rafters' bullpen after the fifth inning. Tyler Matzek, Marcus Stroman and Stites combined to allow three hits and strike out six batters in four innings.
"Bo pitched his heart out," Piscotty said. "He'd been so dominant and he gave a great effort. The 'pen picked him up. Those were huge innings by Stroman with the game tied. The 'pen did a phenomenal job."
After keeping their season alive Wednesday with their sixth straight victory, the Rafters will try to complete their comeback in the division on the season's last day. To do so, they will have to beat right-hander Kyle Crick, the Giants' No. 1 prospect. Salt River will send its own highly touted pitching prospect to the mound, as right-hander Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays' top prospect, will get the ball.
With so much at stake and so much talent on the field, Piscotty is looking forward to another intense game Thursday afternoon.
"We're having a lot of fun right now, and we want to keep playing," Piscotty said. "It's coming down to the wire right now and you live for those situations. We're going to go out tomorrow and try to finish it off."