Volpe's walk-off delivers division to Somerset

June 26th, 2022

 was down to his last strike in the last inning on the last day of the first half of the season. With one swing, the top Yankees prospect extended his team’s season.

Volpe belted a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th to lift Double-A Somerset to a 6-5 win over visiting Hartford, delivering the Eastern League Northeast Division first-half title to the Patriots in a winner-take-all game between the division’s top two teams.

“I was just being aggressive,” Volpe told the media after his game-winning shot. “I was pretty confident going up. I knew the guy had really good stuff, but I just wanted to be aggressive.”

Somerset looked to be cruising toward their division crown, breaking a scoreless tie with four runs in the bottom of the seventh. But Hartford answered with four in the top of the eighth to force extras, then took a 5-4 lead when MLB’s No. 94 overall prospect Ezequiel Tovar hit an RBI grounder to third for the second out of the inning. The Patriots escaped with no further damage.

With Mickey Gasper on second base to start the bottom of the 10th, Volpe stepped in to lead off. Facing a 1-2 count, the shortstop connected with an offering from Yard Goats reliever Gavin Holloway and belted it over the wall in left-center.

“I felt like I was seeing the balls well," Volpe said. “I felt like I just missed the slider that I fouled back [earlier in the at-bat], and then I felt pretty calm on the fastball that I took. I was pretty confident with his two-pitch mix out there, that I could cover all the pitches.”

Immediately after the ball left his bat, baseball’s No. 5 overall prospect pointed at the home dugout. As he rounded first, Volpe leapt in celebration.

“It’s been a really, really fun ride,” he said. “To do it in front of the home fans and everyone like that, it’s the cherry on top. I think just the staying composed part, everyone in the lineup was composed. We all worked really hard for moments like this, so I had supreme confidence in anyone that was coming up in that spot.”

The blast capped off Volpe’s best month of the season. After hitting .197/.329/.364 in 18 April games and .207/.297/.379 in 22 contests in May, the 21-year-old has posted a .297/.360/.549 line through 23 June games with five of his 10 homers and 15 of his 37 RBIs.

Volpe, a New Jersey native, got to showcase his heroics in front of friends and family on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s amazing,” he told the media. “It’s incredible. To have a moment like that in front of them -- with them, really -- in the stands, in my ear, it was a dream come true.”

Somerset started its season just 7-6 before going on a tear with wins in eight of its next nine games to set the tone for the remainder of the first half. Since the start of that streak, the Patriots have gone 37-19. Their push across the finish line wasn't easy. Somerset was two games back of Hartford with three to play entering the first half's final weekend and finished the job by claiming three of four games from the Yard Goats, including two by one run.

The Patriots have benefitted from a pitching staff that has been the best in Double-A so far this year. Somerset's arms have combined to post a 3.36 ERA, which is two-tenths of a run better than second-place Erie, also in the Eastern League. On the offensive side, Volpe ranks in the top 10 in the league in doubles (17, t-6th) and extra-base hits (28, t-6th) while checking in second with 44 runs scored and first with 27 steals.

Sunday’s win was the culmination of a series the Patriots had been anticipating while trying to chase down the Yard Goats. It also served as a rehab opportunity for Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, who threw a perfect seventh inning with a strikeout.

“The whole week’s been awesome,” Volpe said. “We’ve kind of had it circled on our calendars for a while, and it’s something that everyone cares about. We’re part of a really great organization that we want to uphold their values. Winning is a huge part of it.”