The Rochester Red Wings used clutch hitting to earn their first home win on the 2017 season by a score of 10–6 on a warm Sunday afternoon. They did all their damage in the opening four innings of a game that was only seven innings long as the first game in the daily doubleheader.
The Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, are coming off of a third-place finish in their division, earned with an 81–63 record. As a minor league team, especially a AAA one, its roster is constantly in flux, with a mix of upcoming prospects, fringe major leaguers, and career minor leaguers.
The franchise is the longest continuously operating one below the major league level in North America, founded in 1899. For the first 30 years of its existence, the team played in the long defunct Eastern League as the Rochester Bronchos. Afterward, it spent over three decades each as the top farm club for the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles, respectively, before partnering with the Twins after the 2002 season.
The team played in Silver Stadium from 1929 to 1996, after which Frontier Field opened, located in downtown Rochester next to the Eastman Kodak building.
After the UR Chamber Singers sang a beautiful rendition of the national anthem, the game got underway with Jason Wheeler on the mound for the Red Wings (6–4) against the Syracuse Chiefs (3–7), an affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
The lefty looked shaky early, having trouble finding the strike zone when not giving up base hits. However, after allowing a ground rule double to score a run and put two men in scoring position with one out, he retired the final two batters to limit the damage.
The Red Wings seemed to be following that up with a quick, scoreless inning, with a man on first and two outs. But first baseman Kennys Vargas, who has also played more than 100 major league games, was able to draw a walk on a full count, and right fielder Daniel Palka knotted the score with a line drive single. After another single loaded the bases, left fielder Ben Paulsen got the big opportunity.
Paulsen, who has been able to rack up decent major league stats in 186 games with the Colorado Rockies, entered the at bat with a .360 average and a team-leading eight runs batted in on the young season. He only furthered his impressive start with a bases-clearing double that gave the Red Wings the lead for good and gave him double-digit RBIs.
The home team struck again in the bottom of the second on a two-run shot by second baseman Tommy Field, extending the lead to five runs. After scoring again in the third, the Red Wings truly broke open the game on a three-run bomb by Vargas that threatened to physically break the scoreboard.
Though the outcome was rarely in doubt after that, the most engaging moment for the crowd on the afternoon came during the top of the fifth, when Chiefs left fielder Brandon Snyder at the plate. The reason for the crowd’s anticipation was that Snyder was designated as the Taco Bell K-Man—if he were to strike out at least once, ticket stubs could be redeemed for a free taco for the next 48 hours. With a 1-2 count and the crowd watching with baited breath, Snyder struck out on a foul tip, sending the fans into manic elation.
Two innings later, Trevor Hildenberger came in and got a 1-2-3 inning in relief, and the Red Wings had their first home win of the season.