R’Dogs take opener after wild walk-off

Charleston RiverDogs players, including outfielder Jeff Hendrix (center), walk through Riley Park on their way to the field before playing the Columbia Fireflies.

There are certain parts of opening day every year that always trigger the memories for RiverDogs manager Luis Dorante. The fans, the $1 beers, the fireworks, Bill Murray — they were all at Riley Park on Thursday night for the RiverDogs’ opening day, just like normal.

But this year, this opening day, will certainly be one Dorante will never forget. It will be permanently ingrained in his mind forever as the host of one of the most exciting, bizarre walk-offs he’s witnessed as a manager.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said of his RiverDogs’ 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Columbia Fireflies. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Here’s how it happened: The RiverDogs trailed the Fireflies, 4-1, at the beginning of the ninth inning. After Kyle Holder lined out to open the inning, Fireflies pitcher Alex Palsha then relinquished back-to-back walks to Kendall Coleman and Angel Aguilar to put two runners on base with one out. Eduardo Navas then sent a hard chopper to right field, scoring Coleman while the speedy Aguilar made his way to third. That made the score 4-2.

“I think the key was the base hit by Navas to right field,” Dorante said. “Aguilar never hesitated to come up and then go to third base on that.”

Palsha then struck out Jeff Hendrix, putting the RiverDogs down two runs, with two outs, in the bottom of the ninth. But he issued two more walks, which put Charleston within striking distance — 4-3 — before he was pulled and the madness unfolded.

When new pitcher Johnny Magliozzi gave cleanup hitter Chris Gittens a full count with two outs and the bases loaded, Hoy Jun Park took off from second base and found himself in a pickle. Magliozzi tried to run down Park, which gave Navas, then on third, a chance to steal home and tie the game. After Magliozzi saw Navas take off, he threw back home and overshot it for an error, which allowed Park to score, too. Game over. RiverDogs 5, Fireflies 4.

“The first (win) is always nice to get out of the way,”Dorante said. “We come up and put four runs on the board to win the game and never give up. The identity of our club I think is gonna be like that.”

Park, the $2.2-million product out of South Korea, was swarmed at the plate as he crossed for the winning run. He’s still trying to get a grasp on the English language in his new city, but at that moment no words were needed.

Not to mention, Thursday was Park’s 20th birthday.

“I can’t forget this day. I can’t,” he said. “I can’t forget.”

Mayor John Tecklenburg kicked off the night at Riley Park by playing the national anthem on the piano and singing along with the RiverDogs.

The RiverDogs continue their series with the Fireflies on Friday, when the two square up at 7:05 p.m. for the second installment of a four-game set. Twenty-three-year-old righty Will Carter gets the ball for the RiverDogs. P.J. Conlon, a lefty, will head to the bump for the Fireflies.

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.