Before a crowd of 47,000, a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the 10th inning and a runner on first with two outs, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had one positional player left to pinch hit for closer Kenly Jansen.
Bench players Ross Stripling, Kike Hernandez, Franklin Gutierrez had all seen the field leaving none other than the former Sun Devil catcher himself — Austin Barnes.
With a runner on first, he was granted the opportunity to at least aid to a Dodgers victory, but Barnes had other plans — to win the game himself.
The first pitch he saw, a two seam fastball slicing in towards his hands, he struck a laser-like line drive to the right-center fence. It was a clear double. The only question was if Strippling, the right-handed reliever, would score from first.
He scored easily — validating Barnes’ heroics and sending him to the bottom of a dog pile.
From the last choice of Roberts’s lineup card to one of the first, Barnes earned a start two days later against the Rockies on May 12. He went 1-for-3, and his lone hit was another double that led to an RBI.
Being in Barnes’s position, extra base hits are key to impress Roberts and possibly earn playing time. Of his 11 hits in 40 at-bats this season, Barnes has scratched together six doubles, a triple and a home run.
His hitting has actually proven so productive that his .550 slugging percentage is second on the Dodgers behind red hot Cody Bellinger.
With already 47 plate appearances and 40 at-bats one and a half months into the season, Barnes has quickly shattered his previous average of just 30.5 at-bats in 2015 and 2016.
While Barnes’s .275 batting average is over 100 points higher than last season (.156), it’s still not sufficient to be “everyday starter.” It’s been a role Barnes has attempted to fill since being drafted in the ninth round by the then-Florida Marlins in 2011.
It’s 2017 and 27-year-old Barnes is still fighting for a spot.
As Dodgers starting catcher 28-year-old Yasmani Grandal boasts his .298 batting average, eight doubles and 17 RBI’s in 106 at-bats, Barnes watches, learns and listens for what could be eventually become his spot.
With a four-game hit streak dating back to May 6 and hits in seven of the last 10 games played he has played in, Barnes is certainly on the right track.
Whether it is from injury, double headers, late inning games, pinch hit situations, etc., opportunities will come for Barnes. All he can do is seize the moment.
Once on the same playing field as Angels right-fielder Kole Calhoun, Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams, Cardinals pitcher Mike Leake and Indians second-basemen Jason Kipnis, Barnes enjoyed plentiful success with the Sun Devils.
From 2009-11, Arizona State won the Pac-10 twice and entered the NCAA tournament all three years. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, the Sun Devils ventured to Omaha where they eventually fell to Texas in the semifinals in 2009 and then took early exit to South Carolina in the 2010 College World Series.
As a junior in 2011, Barnes had his most impressive season at Arizona State as he hit .320 and with 14 doubles and 15 RBI’s.