MESA, Ariz. -- Jordan Walker couldn’t help but start laughing as he walked to the plate.
The Arizona Fall League announced that they were extending Sunday’s Fall Stars Game at Mesa’s Sloan Park to the bottom of the ninth, despite the home National League side holding a 7-3 lead in the bottom of the frame. One issue: In order to get as many players into the prospect showcase as possible, the American League needed to use NL pitchers.
So when Tink Hence entered the game (then a 9-3 ballgame) with two outs and promptly allowed a single to Dodgers slugger Andy Pages with Walker on deck, a comical situation arose.
A Cardinal had to face a Cardinal.
“I’ve seen him hit against all the best pitchers,” Hence said. “But we’ve never faced each other.”
The pair of Top 100 Prospects were part of the same 2020 Draft class for St. Louis. Walker went 21st overall out of a Georgia high school, and Hence was selected 42 picks later from the Arkansas prep ranks. In the two years that have passed, have the two truly never crossed paths in Spring Training or fall instructs?
“First time we’ve faced each other,” Walker confirmed, “and I wouldn’t want it on any different scene.”
The first at-bat didn’t last long.
“He wants to challenge me,” Walker said. “He wants to beat me with his best fastball. I knew it was going to be a hard fastball, so that’s what I was looking for.”
Pitching out of the stretch with Pages on first, Hence indeed fired a heater up and away from the similarly right-handed Walker, inducing the slugger to swing away. The batted ball took AL right fielder Heston Kjerstad all the way to the warning track in right-center before he secured the ball just short of the fence.
“When I saw it off the bat, I’m like, ‘All right,’” Hence said, mirroring what could have been his exasperation. “As he got closer, I could see him look at it, so I’m like, ‘Hopefully, he’ll bring it down for me.’ It was a nice play by Kjerstad.”
“It was a good pitch, man,” Walker said. “It’s tough doing anything with that one.”
That said, Walker was seen pinching his fingers in Hence’s direction as he rounded first base, indicating that he had just missed securing his own bragging rights.
Walker’s official 0-for-1 line against his Salt River and St. Louis teammate brought another memorable moment to what’s been a solid Fall League for both.
Walker has hit .290/.370/.580 over 81 plate appearances and is tied for second in the circuit with five homers. Hence, normally a starter, has been used as an AFL reliever to keep his innings in check and has managed to give up just one earned run while fanning eight in 7 1/3 innings.
One week remains in the Fall League schedule, and then the pair of Cards might not share a field again until Spring Training in Jupiter, Fla. It’s possible Walker could get his revenge there. Maybe Hence will choose to go first-pitch offspeed next time to keep him off the scent. If that’s his plan, Walker wants to experience it first.
“Hey, hey, I don’t want to hear it,” Walker said before Hence could detail his approach to AB No. 2. “I want to be completely surprised. He’s a good pitcher, so I’ll have to do my work in the offseason for sure.”