SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The 2022 Arizona Fall League season ended much in the same fashion that the World Series did: players with “Astros” splayed across their chests bursting into a title-winning frenzy on the diamond.
The longest game in AFL postseason history (11 innings) concluded when Championship Game MVP Scott Schreiber laced a walk-off single to the left-center-field gap for Surprise, swinging the pendulum of the ultimate seesaw affair in its favor. For the first time since 2013, the Saguaros sit atop the fall circuit throne with a 7-6 win.
Surprise never led in the final game of the domestic baseball campaign until the final swing. Glendale kept the pressure on throughout, but the cohort of Astros, Phillies, Pirates, Rangers and Royals prospects continuously clawed back, forcing the game to an 11th frame.
“I said it in that inning, ‘I’m tired of answering all game. Like we keep answering, we keep answering -- knock them out,’” Surprise manager Mickey Storey said. “And Scotty knocked them out.”
Storey, the skipper of Houston’s Triple-A affiliate at Sugar Land, oversaw the third walk-off in AFL title game history, which had a distinct Astros flavor. Entering the frame down a run, third baseman Will Wagner -- who split 2022 between High-A Asheville and Double-A Corpus Christi and subsequently enjoyed a breakout Fall League campaign (1.145 OPS) -- flared an opposite-field double that tied the contest for the fifth time. That set the stage for Schreiber’s heroics.
“I was like, ‘You want me to walk it off or are you going to walk it off?’” Wagner said of a conversation he had with Schreiber. “Then I was like, ‘I’ll hit the double here, you walk it off.’”
Consider Wagner prescient.
“It was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating,” Schreiber said. “I mean, the pitchers did a great job of keeping us in the game at the end there. Obviously, it’s hard with a guy at second, but they kept it to one run and then we were just able to produce there to finish off the game.”
Schreiber entered his 11th-inning plate appearance 1-for-3 on the night with a pair of walks. He had a chance to play hero in the bottom of the ninth, but struck out swinging, leaving him burning to end a trying season on the right note.
“I was looking for offspeed,” Schreiber said. “I was looking for offspeed most of the game, especially with runners in scoring position, and luckily enough, I got one I was able to do some damage with.”
Schreiber, a ninth-round selection by Houston in the 2018 Draft out of the University of Nebraska, took an arduous path to the desert. Sidelined by back surgery for the season’s first four months, the 27-year-old didn’t suit up until August and was limited to 23 games between the Florida Complex League and Double-A Corpus Christi during the regular season. A stint with the Saguaros offered the veritable golden ticket of opportunity.
Fast-forward to Saturday night and Schreiber found himself batting cleanup for the Saguaros after an impressive regular-season stint that saw him slash .340/.404/.540 over 14 contests. Surprise, by virtue of its 19-10 record, secured a bye directly to the Championship Game; it left one game remaining on the ledger -- a true winner-take-all.
The goal of all Fall League participants is to parlay success during the autumn into a call to The Show during the spring and summer. That aspect remained on Schreiber’s mind as he ended his year on the ultimate high note, but he still took time to soak in the moment of watching the ball find the grass on a brisk November night in Arizona.
“It was great,” Schreiber said with a wide smile. “Just a lot of emotions -- excitement mostly -- but just thankful that God gave me this opportunity to play in this league, showcase my skills and be with all these great players.”
“It’s exciting for Scotty,” Storey said. “His last at-bat, he struck out and came back in the dugout, frustrated, didn’t like the way his at-bat went.
“Baseball’s a great game -- you get an opportunity, you fail; you get an opportunity, you fail; then you get an opportunity to capitalize and everybody forgets about the other ones.”