Hitting a walk-off home run is a feeling that baseball players dream about from their days as a Little Leaguer. Adding five hits and a cycle to a walk-off blast is a feat most big leaguers can only dream about. For Nick Loftin, those dreams were realized on Sunday afternoon.
“Un-freaking-believeable,” said Loftin over the phone following the game. “A cycle and a walk-off home run, I’ve never done that ever in my life and that was unbelievable. Words really can’t describe that.”
The Royals’ No. 8 prospect, riding a 15-game hitting streak, completed his best day as a professional baseball player with a two-run no-doubter to give Quad Cities a 14-12 win over South Bend in a wild back-and-forth game. He finished 5-for-6 in the game, with the homer, a triple, two doubles, three RBIs, four runs scored and a strikeout.
“From top to bottom, our lineup was really dialed in today. Hats off to South Bend, they played one heck of a game. It was definitely a hitter’s duel for sure,” said Loftin. He credited teammates John Rave (4-for-5), Royals No. 16 prospect Seuly Matias (HR) and Logan Porter (3-for-5, HR) for their big performances.
The No. 32 overall pick in the 2020 Draft set five single-game career-highs during his performance: hits (5), doubles (2), runs scored (4), extra-base hits (4) and total bases (12). He tied career-bests in RBIs (3) and at bats (6).
Loftin manned the leadoff spot for the River Bandits and started his day with a hard-hit ground ball single through the left side of the infield. He scored in the following plate appearance on an RBI triple from Nathan Eaton. Loftin added an RBI triple of his own in the second inning on a line drive that bounced off the base of the wall in left-center to knot the score at four.
The Baylor product’s only out of the day came in the third inning, when he struck out on six pitches. When Loftin stepped into the box in the sixth, Quad Cities found itself down 10-7. He hit a broken-bat grounder past the diving third baseman Ryan Reynolds for his first double of the game and scored on Matias’ home run that tied the game at 10.
“When I got to third base, I was like ‘I was trying to hit a homer that time,’” said Loftin. “After that, the cycle went out of my head. I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
Loftin added his second double with two outs in the seventh on a flare to left field that was mishandled by Cubs’ outfielder D.J. Artis. He scored on Michael Massey’s single two batters later, giving the River Bandits an 11-10 advantage and their first lead since the second inning. The Cubs would take the lead right back, scoring two runs in the top of the eighth to set the stage for the Quad Cities comeback.
The 22-year-old came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on first in a game tied at 12. Loftin was expecting to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt, but a wild pitch took care of that for him. On the next pitch, he cranked the walk-off dinger to the Ferris wheel that overlooks left field at Modern Woodman Park, completing the cycle and the comeback with one swing.
Following the wild pitch, Loftin said, “Our manager took off the bunt sign, and [the pitcher] faked an inside move to see if I was going to bunt, so I actually fake squared knowing in my mind I wasn’t going to bunt, but I wanted to make sure he thought I was going to bunt so hopefully he was going to give me a fastball to hit.
“3-1 [count] he threw a fastball middle-in, right what I was looking for,” added Loftin. “I was very fortunate and very lucky that I got the pitch I wanted, put a good swing on it and the rest is history.”
Loftin has experienced success in his first taste of professional baseball, slashing .268/.337/.448 for a .785 OPS in 61 games with 14 doubles, five triples, seven homers, 37 RBIs, 44 runs and seven stolen bases. He has recorded 15 multihit games, including three with three or more knocks. During his current 15-game hitting streak, he has gone 23-for-68, slashing .338/.384/.588 with a .972 OPS and 11 extra-base hits.
“I’ve been trying to stick with my plan and approach that we talk with our hitting guys before each game, really stick to that plan and see the baseball well and put a good swing on it,” said Loftin. “Finding good pitches to hit, take the ones I can’t hit very hard and swing at the ones I can. That’s kind of the name of the game.”