Carter Kieboom had a 2nd/3rd, one-out, walk-off opportunity against New York Mets’ closer Edwin Diaz last Friday night in Nationals Park, but he K’d swinging, chasing an 0-2 slider out of the zone after taking a 97 MPH first-pitch fastball for a strike and then fouling off another heater to fall behind 0-2. Kieboom got another shot at Díaz on Monday afternoon, and hit a walk-off winner on an 0-1 slider. And he had the previous head-to-head matchup in mind as he stepped to the plate with runners on first and third and one out after Andrew Stevenson tied things up at 3-3 with an RBI single.
“I’d thought about it from the last time I faced him,” Kieboom told reporters in a post game Zoom call after the walk-off hit off Díaz. “And he started me off with fastballs, actually [First Base Coach] Randy Knorr and I discussed it, and we were like, ‘He saw you last time, maybe he starts you off with some sliders this time,’ and [Knorr] hit it right on the head with it, he was dead on and I think he probably would have gone fastball after the second slider there, so it was just — the more opportunities, times you get into those situations the better off you are, the more comfortable you get, and you know, it was just something where you don’t even think about the situation, you just think about getting to something to hit and locking in on something you can put in play.”
What was Kieboom thinking as he stepped in against the hard-throwing reliever? What was he trying to do to get the winning run in from third?
“Really just, ‘Be aggressive,’” Kieboom explained. “I know Díaz comes right at you with stuff, whether it’s a slider or fastball, he comes at you as a hitter. I had faced him a couple nights ago in the same situation and came up short with it.
“And I just told myself just be aggressive and see something over the plate, and you know, I swung at a first-pitch slider, I had a feeling he was going to go with it again, and I wasn’t — you’re not always going to get a cookie in those situations, but if you can put the ball in play and make something happen, that’s the best thing you can do in a situation like that, especially with one out, so to come up there was — I got something over the plate, a little outside, but it was something I could handle, and put it in play.”
Kieboom’s hit wasn’t all that impressive. It came off the bat at 70.7 MPH. Kieboom’s guess was -10 MPH. While it wasn’t hit particularly hard, it got by the mound and through two of the Mets’ infielders at second base for a walk-off single.
“As soon as I saw it get past the pitcher I knew it was getting through at that point,” he said.
“I don’t — there’s probably nothing appropriate I can say about it, on air, but it’s an awesome feeling, and it was my first one, and as a team, a collective group today that was awesome just for us to hang in there and come back, and just to stick with it, and the pitching did an amazing job today, holding them to a few runs there and that was huge for us.”
Kieboom’s manager was thrilled to see the recently-turned 24-year-old infielder get the big hit.
“He’s been good,” Davey Martinez said, “and we’re going to give these guys an opportunity, and you’ve got to stick with these guys. They’re young. And like I said before, some days things are going to work out and some days they aren’t and they got to learn that about this game. And today it worked out for him and he got a big hit for us.”