A gutsy performance by veteran starter Tommy Mendoza, and some clutch relief pitching Sunday evening prevented a series sweep by the Wild Things and made the River City Rascals’ 11-hour bus trip back to O’Fallon, Mo., a little more tolerable.
Mendoza worked out of some early jams with minimal damage, then shut down the Wild Things during the middle innings and watched the Rascals’ bullpen hold on for a 5-4 victory at Consol Energy Park.
Washington forged a 2-0 lead on single runs in each of the first two innings, then didn’t score again until the eighth. The game wasn’t decided until River City shortstop Johnny Morales snagged Jovan Rosa’s flare for the final out with the Wild Things stranding the potential tying and winning runs on base.
“It’s nice to get out of here with a win,” said River City manager Steve Brook, whose team had lost 14 of 18 games at one stretch but has rebounded to win four of six.
“We’re a team with so much potential. We’re close; really close. We have five quality starting pitchers, everyone in our bullpen has good numbers and we’re No. 1 in the league in defense. If we get some production out of the middle of our lineup we can be a great team. I just hope we don’t bury ourselves in the standings before that happens.”
The reason for Brook’s optimism is his pitching staff. The Rascals’ bullpen has been terrific and the starters have been solid. It’s River City’s .240 team batting average that has slowed the Rascals’ improvement.
On this day, however, the Rascals’ batting average spiked as they had 13 hits off Washington starter Gary Lee (2-3) and four relievers. After falling behind 2-0 after two innings, River City did all of its scoring in the middle innings, getting three runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth.
“Beating a guy like Gary Lee, that’s tough to do in this ballpark,” Brook said.
Catcher Danny Canela drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth and Curren Redal put River City ahead at 3-2 with a two-run single. Canela, a rookie who batted better than .300 three seasons at North Carolina State before transferring to an NAIA school for his senior season, hit his first professional home run in the sixth, making the score 4-2. The Rascals got an important insurance run in the sixth when Evan Crawford doubled with two outs and scored on Jake Atwell’s single.
Washington had taken a 2-0 lead on consecutive doubles by Stewart Ijames and Mark Samuelson in the first inning and Jim Vahalik’s solo home run to left field with two outs in the second. The Wild Things, however, stranded five baserunners in the first three innings. They loaded the bases with one out in the third but did not score.
Mendoza (3-3) managed to get through six innings allowing only two runs on five hits and five walks. He struck out eight.
“That’s what happens when you go against a guy like Mendoza,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said. “He got stronger as the game went along. His velocity went up. We had them working their bullpen early in the game, but Mendoza is an experienced pro.”
Mendoza is one of the most experienced players in the Frontier League. He’s in his ninth season of professional baseball and has started nine games at Class AAA and 24 more in Class AA while in the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. Mendoza played the last two seasons in the Frontier League with Joliet, where his manager was Zeller.
The Wild Things pulled to within 5-4 with a pair of runs in the eighth. Rosa singled off reliever Nick Kennedy and scored when C.J. Beatty laced a triple that rolled to the wall in the left-centerfield gap. Beatty scored when A.J. Nunziato’s one-out grounder to first base was booted.
In the ninth, Washington had consecutive two-out singles from Ijames and Samuelson off River City closer Gabe Shaw, but Rosa’s lineout ended the game.
“I honestly thought we were going to pull something out in the ninth,” Zeller said. “They gave us a chance. Jovan just got that last one off the end of the bat. I did like the fight we showed. We didn’t throw in the towel when we were down 5-2.”
River City is 10-2 all-time at Consol Energy Park under Brook. … Washington’s nine-game homestand ended with a 3-6 record. … The Wild Things begin a three-game series Tuesday at Florence and return home Friday for a series against the Frontier League Greys. … Beatty had seven hits and five RBI in the series. … Washington reliever Matt Phillips threw a scoreless seventh inning to lower his ERA to 0.98 over 13 outings.w