Woodruff's unforgettable performance cemented into memories for teammates, coaches

Woodruff's unforgettable performance cemented into memories for teammates, coaches

PENSACOLA, FL (WLOX) - A soft description of a bulldog mentality is being able to rise to the occasion after facing tough circumstances.

Woodruff created his own definition in Pensacola.

On July 17, Biloxi Shuckers pitcher Brandon Woodruff had been placed on the temporary inactive list and was only a spectator for his team's game against the Birmingham Barons.

Woodruff's brother, Blake, had passed away from his injuries suffered in an ATV accident the previous day, causing Brandon to miss his start July 18, which was when the funeral was scheduled.

He returned to the team later that week in time for Biloxi's series finale in Pensacola – the same place he made his last start when he struck out a career-high 10 batters and allowed no runs.

Woodruff wasn't sure what to expect in his first start following the tragedy, but the doubt was actually created from the seven-day absence, and not his personal situation.

"We try to stick with a routine and he was obviously gone for a little bit," Shuckers pitching coach Chris Hook said. "On that first side session, he mentioned he was a little rusty."

He wasn't rusty for long.

Woodruff's initial 97 mile-per-hour fastball against Wahoos leadoff hitter Beau Amaral blew up any thoughts of a rough outing Sunday in Pensacola.

"After I saw the first pitch, and it was no chance, I'm like, 'Okay, we should be okay,'" Hook said.

Not only did Woodruff strike out the side in the first inning, he retired the first 12 batters he faced and allowed just one baserunner – a leadoff single in the fifth inning by Sebastian Elizalde.

"Being able to see him perform like he did is just a great accomplishment," Shuckers manager Mike Guerrero said. "On the mound, he was outstanding and showed some plus stuff."

Woodruff was pulled from the game after just 79 pitches in six innings because of a pitch limit set beforehand.

He earned his fifth win and finished with nine strikeouts, but it was his contribution at the plate in the third inning that made the game unforgettable.

Down in the count 1-2, Woodruff fouled off two cut-fastballs from Pensacola's Barrett Astin before blasting a solo home run that coincidentally turned out to be the only offense from either side.

"It was a loud sound. Right off the bat everyone knew it was out," Shuckers catcher Jacob Nottingham said. "[It was] destiny. He was so locked in going into the game you could tell when he was throwing in the bullpen before the game that something special was going to happen."

Shuckers play-by-play announcer Chris Harris is paid to talk for a living, but during that home run call, he said that was as close to being speechless during a broadcast that he's ever been.

"Any time you see something in sports that is unexplainable and bigger than the sport, you're at a loss for words," Harris said. "I don't think there's anybody on our team or Pensacola's team that will ever forget it.

"He's hit the ball well, but when he first made contact I didn't think it was necessarily going out of the ballpark. It was one of those things that make you say, 'Did that really just happen?'"

His teammates didn't know which questions to ask or what exactly to say that day, but Woodruff's answers came in pitching and hitting form – the latter not much of a surprise, even for a pitcher.

Woodruff's first-ever homer at the professional level was his fifth hit in 12 at-bats (.417 batting average).

"I'm sure his first thought was, 'I'm going to take care of myself since you're not swinging the bats very well,'" Hook said. "Knowing how athletic he is, it didn't surprise me but it was a special moment for sure."

Woodruff's story has produced an overwhelming amount of support, ranging from former Mississippi State teammates to current opponents like Pensacola pitcher Rookie Davis.

Coincidence, destiny, whatever you want to call it, Woodruff's bulldog mentality in a game not many of us would've been able to stay composed made us all fans for life.

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