'Slugbauer' slam keeps Javs hopes alive

November 18th, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- With one swing of the bat, Braves first baseman kept the Peoria Javelinas' championship game hopes alive.

The Surprise Saguaros had what seemed like a commanding lead, 6-1, heading into the seventh and final inning on Thursday afternoon. The Javelinas loaded the bases with none out, scoring one on a walk to center fielder Ji-hwan Bae (Pirates No. 22) and another on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Phillies prospect Bryson Stott (MLB's No. 97). Catcher Logan O’Hoppe (Phillies No. 11) walked to load the bases again, setting the stage for Lugbauer’s heroics.

The fact that the Arizona Fall League is a low-key, developmental circuit was forgotten in the moment, as the big first baseman crushed a grand slam to give Peoria a 7-6 win.

“It’s the Arizona Fall League, but it’s all competition,” Lugbauer said. “Getting up in that situation is pretty cool, bases loaded. It’s what you kind of dream of, down runs and you hitting a grand slam. It was a really cool moment.”

That moment opened the door for the Javelinas to have at least one more notable moment before the AFL wraps up. They are in a tie with the Saguaros, a half-game behind the Glendale Desert Dogs, who were idle, in the West division. If Peoria wins in Salt River and Surprise beats Glendale at home on Friday, then Peoria and Surprise finish in a tie for first place. The two teams also tied in their season series, 3-3. Fall League staff were huddling to determine what the tiebreaking rules were upon conclusion of the game.

“A lot of guys want to win here, and we’re having a lot of fun,” Lugbauer said. “It’s a good team, so hopefully some things roll our way.”

Things have certainly rolled their way of late, as they’ve won three straight. And the same can be said for Lugbauer and how he’s swung the bat all fall. The left-handed-hitting first baseman leads the AFL with his 1.233 OPS and his .750 slugging percentage, earning him the moniker 'Slugbauer.' His 2-for-4 showing on Thursday brought his average up to .375, which put him fourth at the conclusion of the afternoon’s game. And his sixth homer put him in a tie for fourth after a season that saw him hit 18 jacks over 88 Double-A games.

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be here, taking a roster spot initially intended for Braves catching prospect Shea Langeliers (MLB No. 69), who never made it to Arizona because he was on the Braves’ postseason taxi squad for the entirety of their run.

“Day in and day out, working with everybody and watching, learning as much as I can, getting in the cage as much as I can,” Lugbauer said. “Our team has a lot of talent, so learning from these guys is a positive.”

He learned from them in this game alone. Surprise made a pitching change after Yankees right-hander Blane Abeyta loaded the bases and Lugbauer saw Stott’s 0-2 sacrifice fly and O’Hoppe’s walk. He just wanted to keep the rally going, and he was pretty sure he got all of it.

“I think so,” Lugbauer said. “I think I got it pretty good, so I thought it had a chance. “We had some really, really good at-bats in front of me, so I just wanted to move the line.”

The Javelinas couldn’t get it done in an earlier similar situation. They had the bases loaded with no one out in the fifth and only managed one run after Simon Muzziotti (Phillies No. 16) got thrown out at the plate by Royals outfielder Nathan Eaton while trying to score on a Bae fly ball to left, and then Mariners infielder Jose Caballero got caught off third by catcher Austin Wells (Yankees No. 6) to end the inning.

Surprise used the momentum shift to score three times in the fifth and once more in the sixth to build that 6-1 lead. Shortstop Jackson Cluff (Nationals 19) had RBI singles in the third and the sixth, outfielder Elijah Dunham (Yankees 24) went 3-for-4 with a stolen base, and fellow Yankee Andres Chaparro had three doubles and three runs scored as it looked like the Saguaros were going to eliminate the Javelinas.

But when Lugbauer strode to the plate, he did not want to think about the squandered opportunities that had led to all of that.

“Not necessarily, because that’s a negative thought,” Lugbauer said. “I try to be as positive as possible going in there -- move the line. Everyone had really good at-bats, and I tried to capitalize on that, and I put a pretty good swing on the ball.”