WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Reed Gragnani touched home plate and simply high-fived his way back to dugout. The celebration wasn’t totally over the top. It was as if the Wahoos had pulled this off before.
No. 4 Virginia is close to earning the title following a second straight come-from-behind win over Wake Forest at Gene Hooks Field. Saturday, it was a 7-6 result after a 6-1 deficit in the sixth inning. The hero was Mike Papi with his go-ahead grand slam in the ninth. Sunday, UVa turned in an 8-6 victory after trailing 6-3 in the fifth.
Gragnani, with a two-run shot in the eighth, played the Papi role on Sunday.
“I just got a good pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it,” Gragnani said of his first career home run. “It just happened to go over the fence.”
And the ‘Hoos just happened to improve to 29-3 and 11-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For this two-day stretch, they’ve made a habit of shrugging off a shaky performance from their starter, regrouping with a stellar bullpen and finishing with hitting dramatics.
Like Brandon Waddell on Saturday, Scott Silverstein didn’t offer his best stuff to the Demon Deacon lineup. The senior lasted just 3 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on six hits.
He exited in the fourth inning with a runner on third and the Cavs trailing, 4-3.
The advantage grew to three runs after Josh Sborz was hit for a pair in the fifth.
Enter Austin Young.
Quickly becoming the most valuable arm in the pen, the junior right-hander (4-0) threw another three scoreless innings, dropping his ERA to 0.77.
“Certainly, we didn’t get the two starts on the mound in these first two [games] that we wanted to,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor, “but how about our bullpen again? It continues to come through and hold other teams down and gives us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Throw in a lineup that’s a constant threat one-through-nine and the Wahoos have created the ideal comeback formula.
Sunday, patience was the key.
Virginia was walked 14 times, its most in a game since 2010. In the sixth inning, it led off with three free passes and eventually scored three runs to tie things at 6.
Brandon Downes, with his second RBI double of the afternoon, had the highlight. Papi earned his fifth RBI of the series with a groundout to second base.
“When you look at their stats, they got a lot of guys coming out of the bullpen that walk quite a few guys,” O’Connor said. “Our hitters are always very, very disciplined. It’s rare to see them chase pitches off the plate. And you got to make pitches to our hitters to get them out.
“Because of that, it leads to a lot of walks and a lot of scoring opportunities.”
Like in the eighth inning.
Fittingly, Papi started the frame with a walk. He was moved to second base via a Derek Fisher sacrifice bunt. He came home on a two-out Gragnani blast that didn’t settle until it reached some shrubbery to the left of the Hooks Field scoreboard.
“He put a good swing on the ball,” O’Connor said of his senior second baseman. “I thought throughout the game he put good swings on some balls. Certainly, it’s a little bit of a hitter’s environment but, still, he put a good line drive swing on it.
“Basically, it was a line drive out of the ballpark.”
One that put UVa ahead for good.
A Saturday flashback with a different hero.
“Whoever can do it,” Papi said, “it’s fine with me as long as we come out with a win.”
Kyle Crockett worked a scoreless 1 1/3 innings to pick up his sixth save of the season and fourth of the week.
Wake Forest dropped to 17-16 and 4-10 in the ACC.
The series finale is tonight at 7. ESPNU will televise the game, a potential opportunity for the nation to see more Wahoo late-inning magic.
“It just gives us confidence that no lead is safe for an opponent,” Gragnani said. “With our bullpen and our clutch hitting that we’ve been able to accomplish, we feel comfortable in any situation — no matter late in the game, early in the game.”