Kyle Manzardo, Ryan Bliss send Peoria to Fall League final

November 11th, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It wasn't a quiet scene in the Javelinas dugout when the Scorpions put up nine runs in the first inning of Friday's Arizona Fall League play-in game. It could've been easy for Peoria to wave the white flag and start thinking of what to do in the offseason.

But that has never been the mentality the Javelinas had this season.

"Everybody was pretty locked in," Guardians No. 2 prospect said. "Nobody was really moping around or being too negative. Just goes to show the group we've got. We're really fortunate with a lot of good players."

By the end of the night, the Javelinas stood tall, embraced each other and celebrated with joy after they scored 12 unanswered runs to beat the Scorpions 12-9. The contest at Camelback Ranch was tied for the highest-scoring game in AFL postseason history.

The Javelinas will play the Saguaros, who won last year's AFL crown, in the championship game Saturday night at Scottsdale Stadium.

"I always have the feeling that we're never really out of a game," Manzardo said. "Just because we've scored so many runs out here. I feel like, especially after a night like tonight, we can go hang with any offense here."

The Scorpions tormented Javelinas starter Logan Workman (Rays). After getting Victor Scott II (STL No. 4) to ground in his first at-bat, Scottsdale's batters reached base in six straight at-bats. Matt Kroon (Phillies), Israel Pineda (WSH No. 23) and Trey Lipscomb (WSH No. 14) each knocked in a runner. Just like that, Workman's night ended after recording one out.

It didn't get better when Zach McCambley (Marlins) came in relief and allowed a two-run single to Zach Morgan (Giants) on the first pitch of his outing. The Scorpions scored three more runs, capping it off with a two-run home run by Gabriel Rincones Jr. (PHI No. 9).

It didn't take long for the Javelinas to respond. Manzardo set the tone as the leadoff man in the second inning by launching a projected 426-foot home run to right field. Peoria added two more runs on one out and set up  with the bases loaded and opportunity at redemption.

In the first inning, the Mariners' No. 14 prospect was inches away from homering, but Scott made a leaping catch at the warning track. Bliss didn't miss this time. He socked grand slam to cut the Javelinas' deficit to 9-7.

"I kind of just wanted to get us on the board, get us a run and you know got a good pitch, got a good swing off on it," Bliss said. "When I saw [the ball] go over, it was kind of a sigh of relief that they didn't catch it this time."

After the Javelinas scored twice in the fifth inning to tie the game, Manzardo delivered the go-ahead 364-foot opposite-field home run to put Peoria up 11-9 in the sixth inning.

"Everybody's just trying to get to first base, trying to pass the baton on to the next man up," Manzardo said. "We put some really tough at-bats some good pitchers and made it happen."

Six pitchers delivered seven innings of shutout baseball, led by Ike Buxton (Marlins) who pitched 2 2/3 innings with two strikeouts.

On paper, the Javelinas were the most talented team, as they boasted more players in MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospect rankings (four) than any squad in the Fall League. Saturday night, they'll have the opportunity to back that up with a shot at the AFL Championship.

"It would mean everything," Bliss said. "We've been going at it for a long time. We're here, so we might as well do it. This would be a great way to cap off the 2023 season."