GARY | Danny Pulfer has been a true utility man, playing every position but pitcher since his second year of college.
A need arises, and he’s there to fill a spot — after he digs into his bag of many mitts.
With Brian Kolb sidelined since an injury on opening night, Pulfer is holding down the third base spot and taking the time to contribute to RailCats victories.
Pulfer walked five times — believed to be a franchise single-game record — Sunday and scored the winning run on a game-ending error in the bottom of the ninth as the RailCats salvaged a season-opening split of their series with the Lincoln Saltdogs with a 6-5 victory at U.S. Steel Yard.
“You take what you can get,” Pulfer said. “You’ve just got to stay ready at all times. You don’t want to wish somebody goes down, but there is a comfort knowing that if someone does go down, we’ve got someone who can do the job just as well.”
Pulfer came home with the winning run when Adam Klein’s two-out, bases-loaded ground ball smash to shortstop was misplayed. The Lincoln shortstop booted the ball, then tried to throw behind his back to get a force out at second, where Chase Tucker was hustling to slide in safely and ensure the RailCats (2-2) won.
Tucker’s hustle was crucial to tying the game in the seventh inning. He legged out an infield single with Pulfer on third and two out to knot the game at five.
Pulfer’s ninth-inning walk was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt with Steve Liddle on base, but Pulfer fell behind in the count 0-2 to losing pitcher Conor Spink after two failed bunt attempts.
“Situational hitting there isn’t the easiest because everyone wants to be the dude and crush one,” Pulfer said.
Pulfer, a 23-year-old native Californian, made an error that allowed Lincoln’s first run to score in the first inning.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that any win is a good win,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said. “But we’ve got a lot of things to work on.”
The ninth inning began with no outs and the bases loaded, a situation the RailCats squandered in the fifth.
With the bullpen worn down from the 11-inning season opener and multiple uses in the subsequent two games, Gary left starting pitcher Will Krout in the game into the seventh.
Krout allowed a three-run home run to the third hitter of the seventh, Jeremy Mayo, to fall behind 5-4 before leaving the game.
Lincoln’s Dennis Raben had a solo homer, his third shot of the series, and finished the four-game set with nine RBIs.
“I’ve got to believe he’s going to be the player of the week,” Tagert said. “He might have done enough for a month.”
Tagert said he hopes Pulfer doesn’t take a negative connotation from the term “utility player.”
“If Danny can embrace it, we don’t want a drop-off,” Tagert said. “I want to make sure that our 10th guy is as good as the guy he has to replace, and that’s what we’ve got with Danny.”
Pulfer’s first run came on Drew Martinez’s sacrifice fly in the third that put Gary up 3-1. Craig Maddox’s sac fly in the sixth put the ‘Cats up 4-2.
“It was big to get this win today, especially after two tough ones,” Pulfer said. “That team’s going to make us work all season. I have a feeling, come playoff time, it’s going to be us and them.”