By Josh Cook
Devin Mesoraco made his Triple-A debut a memorable one.
The 22-year-old catcher, who was assigned to the Louisville Bats from Double-A Carolina on Tuesday, hit a walk-off, grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night to give the Bats a 5-3 win over Syracuse.
Louisville's 13th consecutive victory at Louisville Slugger Field, coupled with Columbus' 9-2 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre moved the Bats (70-54) within 1 1/2 games of the Clippers (72-53) in the International League West standings.
Louisville, which has 19 games remaining on its schedule, leads Buffalo (66-56) by three games in the IL wildcard standings and the Chiefs (64-61) by 6 1/2 games.
However until the ninth Syracuse looked like it was well on its way to trimming the Bats' lead. The Chiefs led 3-0 heading into Louisville's last at-bat after scoring two runs in the sixth and one in the eighth.
The first five innings were a draw between Louisville starter, and right-hander, Chad Reineke, and Syracuse starter - left-hander Matt Chico. Wladimir Balentien's second-inning single was the only hit in the first four innings.
In fact Reineke had a perfect game through five innings, retiring the first 15 Chief batters in order.
Louisville's Juan Francisco led off the bottom of the fifth with a double, but he was thrown out trying to score on a single by the next batter, Balentien. Balentien advanced to second on the throw home, but was then thrown out trying to steal third during Chris Valaika's at-bat.
Leonard Davis led off the sixth with a single to center field. It was the first hit allowed by Reineke, who then hit the next batter, Carlos Maldonado, with a pitch. Chico's sacrifice bunt advanced both runners before a single by former University of Louisville standout Boomer Whiting scored Davis. Danny Espinosa followed with another RBI-single to score Maldonado. Over six innings Chico allowed six hits, while striking out six.
Meanwhile Reineke gave up a pair of earned runs on three hits, while walking one and striking out five over seven innings.
Philippe Valiquette replaced Reineke at the start of the eighth inning and gave up a one-out, solo homer to Seth Bynum to make it 3-0.
Then came Louisville's rally.
Adam Carr replaced Syracuse reliever Josh Wilkie, who gave up one hit while striking out five over two innings, to start the ninth.
He promptly gave up a lead-off home run to Yonder Alonso that was followed by a single by Todd Frazier.
Atahualpa Severino relieved Carr and got Juan Francisco to ground out, advancing Frazier to second, before walking Balentien. Chris Valaika followed with a single to load the bases.
That brought up Mesoraco, who came in hitting .313 through 99 games at High Class-A Lynchburg (Va.) and Carolina. The right-hander swung and missed at the first pitch from Severino (4-3) before taking three straight balls. He took a second strike before fouling off the sixth pitch fro Severino. Then, he launched the seventh offering over the right field fence.
Louisville reliever Jerry Gil, who was also assigned to Louisville from Carolina on Tuesday, struck out the side in the ninth to earn his first Triple-A victory.
Mesoraco, Balentien and Valaika each had 11 hits to lead Louisville.
The same two teams meet at 7:05 p.m. Thursday night at Slugger Field. As usual Budweiser Game Time "Happy Hour," with $1 Bud and Bud Light, will take place from 5:30-7 p.m. There will also be live music provided by Josh and Holly.