John Solazzo said he needed a breather, so he took a few days away from baseball.
Hitting the reset button has certainly done a world of good for the veteran and the Toronto Maple Leafs are benefiting from it.
Solazzo took the mound in the ninth inning of a tie game and held the fort, and then delivered a one-out, walk-off home run to give Toronto an 8-7 win over the London Majors in Intercounty Baseball League action, June 30th, at Dominico Field at Christie Pits.
The Mississauga native’s fourth long ball of the season off London reliever Migel Burgos helped him earn a win in his first trip to the mound since July of 2017. More importantly, Solazzo’s heroics provided a huge boost for a struggling Leafs team (8-12) that had lost six of its last nine games coming in.
“I was dealing with some personal issues and I just wanted to take some time off the field and wanted to hit the reset button,” said Solazzo, who started the game as the designated hitter and finished 3-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs and two runs scored. “Since I’ve done that, off and on the field it’s working. So whatever I’m doing, I’m going to keep going forward with it.”
The veteran slugger had played just one game between May 26th and June 15th during his self-imposed break. In his 15-plate appearances since his return, he’s racked up six hits, including two homers, scored four runs and driven in three.
Solazzo allowed the first two hitters to get on base when he took the hill in the ninth inning, before making a nice diving catch off a bunt to record the first out and then got Kyle Gormandy to hit into a double play to end the London (11-12) threat.
“It’s been a long time since I got out there and pitched,” said Solazzo, who was mobbed by his teammates at home plate after his decisive homer. “I pitched when I was younger and to get that chance to pitch. . . I want to help the guys. I wanted to finish it all. I saw that fastball high and in and I just swing it and threw the bat in the air and said, ‘You know what, we just won the game.'”
Down 6-3 heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Leafs would plate four runs to take the lead. Marcus Knecht’s two-run homer cut the lead to one and then a run-scoring single by Damon Topolie tied it, before Zac Orchard scored the go-ahead run off an error by Majors shortstop Carlos Arteaga.
A leadoff solo shot in the eighth by Mike Ambrose off reliever Andrew Simonetti tied the game, before Solazzo would play hero in the ninth.
“He needed some confidence,” Topolie said of Solazzo. “That’s a hell of a job on both ends. It’s a tough inning and he made a great play on the bunt, and then he deserved that good swing. That’s a great team win for us, we needed that.”
Matos Kekatos got the start for Toronto, going three innings. He gave up four runs, two earned, on four hits and three walks, while striking out a pair. Knecht also had a nice day at the plate for the Leafs, going 2-for-5 with three RBIs and a run scored.
Burgos (3-3) was saddled with the loss in just a third-of-an-inning.
A day after stranding 11 batters in a 6-0 loss in Welland, the Leafs struggled again to come up with the timely hit early in this one. Despite putting the first two batters on base in three of their first five innings, they only managed to plate one run.
That all changed late in the game.
“That was a rollover from yesterday,” Topolie said. “We couldn’t get any breaks and we finally got some breaks today, and it’s about time we got rolling.”
The Leafs return to action Wednesday night when they hit the road to take on the Hamilton Cardinals. Game time is 7:30 p.m.