Bowling Green Hot Rods catcher Chris Betts delivered the game-winning blast for the East squad in a sudden-death Home Run Derby to decide the Midwest League All-Star Game on Tuesday at Four Winds Field in South Bend, Ind.
As the entire West team screamed and taunted every pitch during the derby, Betts stepped out of the batter’s box and called his one time out.
After the East and West battled to a 3-all tie through nine innings, the contest was needed to decide the All-Star Game champion. The West’s Blaze Alexander of Kane County belted one homer in his 90-second round.
With 28 seconds left, Betts stepped back into the batter’s box and launched a towering blast to right field. A few seconds later, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound left-handed-hitting catcher crushed another homer to give the East the victory.
Betts was quickly mobbed by his East teammates, who doused him with a bath of icy orange Gatorade. It was a moment the second-round pick in the 2015 draft savored.
Regarded as a raw power guy when he was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays, Betts underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. In 2017, he underwent another round of elbow surgery due to bone spurs. But with the Midwest League’s brightest lights on him, Betts showed he’s back in full force.
He cranked out 24 homers to win Monday’s game besting Kane County’s Alek Thomas 8-7 in another dramatic walk-off moment.
“There was a lot more tension in the sudden-death to decide the All-Star Game winner than in the Home Run Derby,” East manager Buddy Bailey of the South Bend Cubs said in a news release. “In the Home Run Derby, nobody is pulling against you. Everybody is pulling for you. Here, their whole team is standing a few feet away, hooting and hollering, trying to get in your head.”
After Monday’s power show, Bailey picked Betts to represent the East in the first use of the sudden-death Home Run Derby to decide the All-Star Game winner in lieu of extra innings.
“This is so special,” the 22-year-old Betts said in a news release. “It really means so much to me. I’ve had quite the support system, from my parents, my girlfriend … and the training staff and everybody with the Rays stayed with me and allowed me to get to this point.
“There are a lot of organizations, after two elbow surgeries, I don’t get back to this point. The Rays have kept the faith and let me do my thing and get healthy and come and show what they drafted me for.”
Betts stands third in the Midwest League this season with 12 homers. He’s hitting .226.
“There was a lot of time down in the dumps,” he said of his long and winding road. “To come back and do this in front of my Dad, my agent and my girlfriend … it’s really special. It’s been a journey, but a lot of people have stuck by me, and I think it’s for the better now.
“The surgeries and all … I got humbled really young. Right after the draft, I was humbled with the Tommy John, laid up in an apartment for a year doing a bunch of nothing. It’s been a grind, but I tried to use it to an advantage.”
West Michigan’s Ulrich Bojarski hit a pair of sacrifice flies and Dodgers No. 27 prospect Miguel Vargas of Great Lakes smacked an RBI double to account for the East’s offense.
Other Hot Rods in action for the East were Wander Franco (0-for-3), Roberto Alvarez (0-for-2) and Grant Witherspoon (0-for-1). Bowling Green’s Trey Cumbie and Caleb Sampen each fired a scoreless inning, and the Hot Rods’ Alan Strong and Easton McGee each tossed a scoreless third of an inning.
Clinton’s Jerar Encarnacion belted a two-run homer and Peoria’s Delvin Perez stole third and scored on an error for the West.