What had already been a tough week with three straight losses looked like it would get worse when the Toronto Maple Leafs blew a late three-run lead and found themselves trailing the London Majors 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Marcus Knecht changed all that with one swing of the bat.
The outfielder stepped up with a pair of runners on and belted a walk-off, three-run home run to power the Leafs to a 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Majors, July 21st, at Dominico Field.
Knecht was mobbed by his teammates at home plate and Toronto (11-20) found a way to avoid its fourth-straight loss.
“Off the bat, I knew it was gone,” Knecht said. “You never want to show boat too much, but yeah it felt good off the bat. Especially at (Christie Pits), those ones where you just know it and it won the game. It was a good feeling.”
Led by a solo homer by Jonathan Thibodeau and two-run shot by Ismael Pena, London (14-17) rallied for three runs in the eighth inning off reliever Zach Sloan to tie the game. Mike Ambrose then took Andrew Simonetti (2-1) deep in the ninth to put the Majors on top.
Toronto’s Grant Tamane and Justin Marra drew walks off London reliever Sean Hood-Tidman (0-1) to kick off the bottom of the ninth. The Majors then turned to reliever Ayden Hannon to face Knecht, who was hitless in three previous at bats. The former Toronto Blue Jays prospect took a called strike and then hammered an opposite-field drive over the right-field fence to cap off the dramatic comeback.
“My at bats got progressively better during game,” Knecht said. “Up and down, but I was learning every at bat. I knew what I needed to do to succeed and that was to see the ball out of the hand, and I saw that spinner. It was just a no-brainer for me to just go with the pitch and hit it the other way.”
For Knecht, who bats in the heart of the Toronto order, it was his team-leading eighth long ball of the season.
“That’s why he’s there,” Leafs manager Damon Topolie said of his run producer. “He’s a middle of the order guy, he’s a production guy. When he comes up in the clutch like that, it’s exactly why he’s hitting where he’s hitting. He’s a professional hitter and he knew what pitch to get and he got it.
“They were pitching him pretty tough all day. The pressure was on and he got the pitch he wanted to hit.”
The rally prevented the Leafs from letting a good day on the mound go to waste. Starter Chris Leroux, who was recently named to the Canada’s baseball squad for the upcoming Pan Am Games that begin later this week in Lima, Peru, was perfect through his three innings, striking out four batters. Mateo Kekatos gave up just a hit over his three innings and Jackson Jones tossed a perfect seventh inning for the Leafs, who grabbed the lead in the fourth inning on a run-scoring single by Cooper Lamb and a two-run single by Ryan Johnston.
“It was a great team win as I told these guys,” Topolie said. “Everybody contributed. We kind of used it as a bullpen day, got a lot of arms in the game. It was disappointing in the top of the ninth, that happens, but we executed in the bottom of the ninth and that’s a good way to end the week.”
The Leafs return to action July 24 when they host the Barrie Baycats at Dominico Field. Game time is 2 p.m.